Joshua Bell is a Horrible Salesman

You may have heard the story of Joshua Bell, world famous violinist, busking in a subway station in Washington.

Imagine an industrial printer in your home office. Or imagine a home printer trying to serve the needs of a corporate office.  Neither makes sense.  Both are ugly and inappropriate.  I would never presume that one would be appropriate for the other’s circumstances.

“But industrial printers are such beautiful instruments!  They’re works of art!  Pure genius!”

Not in my home office they’re not! If a salesman installed an industrial printer in my home office, I’d consider him incompetent, foolish and out to lunch.

That’s because when it comes a printer, it’s easy to perceive the circumstances for which it was designed. You can’t separate what a printer is, from what it does, and from how it functions in certain circumstances.

Music is no different.

Bach’s music is beautiful in many circumstances.  But not ALL circumstances. If you perform Bach’s music at a hoedown, you have a problem.

When Joshua Bell performed in that subway station, he calibrated himself to sell to the classical, concert-going community.  He also made no effort to communicate to passersbys what his function was. So it’s no surprise to me that he failed miserably to attract any attention.

This experiment would have been more interesting if Bell was dressed in a tux, chairs were set up around him, and he introduced his pieces like he regularly would in a concert hall.  Or if he played fiddle music with a spoon player and tap dancer.

THAT would have gotten people’s attention…maybe.

I say “maybe” because there are no guarantees in selling.  But it’s still foolish to be presumptuous. If you don’t empathize and consider the wants and needs of other people, your chances of rejection and failure are much higher.

That’s what happened to Joshua Bell. He and his collaborators made no effort to recalibrate, so neither did their “audience.”

Joshua Bell is a horrible salesman.

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