Few musical events in recent years have attracted as much publicity as the morning Joshua Bell spent in a Washington DC metro station, playing unrecognised for commuters. He made $32.17 from the gig. What’s the profit in that?
Anita Elberse, Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School, finds plenty to learn. For instance:
A first insight is that the challenge that Joshua Bell faced is that he is competing for people’s attention. This is the core problem that managers and many others in the workplace experience everyday. I often tell my students that when they go back into the working world, they’ll have to convince others to spend time with them and with their ideas — regardless of whether they are pitching a start-up idea to an investor, trying to make a sale, or hoping to spur their team into action.
It may seem that a master violinist had a head start on his competition, since he’s likely far more talented and far better trained than a typical street performer, but having a great product isn’t enough. That’s another critical truth. Bell’s playing was described by one expert as doing “nothing less than tell human beings why they bother to live” but it still wasn’t sufficient to draw attention. “It was a strange feeling, that people were actually, ah… ignoring me,” Bell told Weingarten. It’s a fate that befalls many who rely solely on product quality and forget to “market” that product — even if they are the product. This is as true for a virtuoso performer like Bell as it is for freshly minted MBA alumni.
Bell’s performance at the metro station was purposefully devoid of any indication that suggested he is, in fact, a superstar worthy of people’s attention. It was the worst marketing strategy imaginable: the wrong location, the wrong time, and (with his street clothes) the wrong image. If the goal had been to attract attention, even a few little adjustments would have gone a long way: picking a place in the station where commuters naturally stand still, placing a banner displaying his name, or hiring a few fans to serve as his cheering section, to name just a few examples. In many ways, everyone who is competing for attention in the workplace needs a strategy,
Read her full analysis here.