Wrong time, wrong place… would you ignore Mozart?

A few years ago the master violinist Joshua Bell took his violin into a busy Washington DC metro station and started playing. The busy commuters bustled past this supreme artist hurrying to get to where they were going.

Almost nobody paid any attention to his playing. Bell played six entire pieces of music and only seven people bothered to stop to listen. He collected just $32.17 from passing commuters for his busking efforts – a far cry from his usual fees at concert halls across the world.

This was a famous Pulitzer-prize-winning experiment in exploring how beauty can be ignored when it is not located in the place we would expect to find it – like a fantastic violinist who should really be in a concert hall, not a crowded train station.

This article explores how managers can learn from the experiment by considering how their team members are competing for attention and may not be very effective at getting the right issues noticed.

But I think a more important reading of this can be related back to the entire process of trying to sell the services your company offers to a prospective customer.

If you are looking for a product and then someone offers you a great deal on exactly what you want, it doesn’t feel like you are being sold to, it feels like someone is helping you to get exactly what you need. When someone tries offering something you have no interest in, no amount of badgering or pestering is going to change your mind – it just enforces a view that you never want to engage with that company again because of the way they behave.

And this is the point of the Bell experiment. Even someone who is an enormous fan of Mozart might ignore a busker in the station because it doesn’t fit into his or her routine. They are not ready to stop and pay attention to music when rushing to work. It’s not just a question of ignoring beauty, it’s also about having the time to stop and engage.

If you try engaging with prospective clients without even considering if they are interested *and also* whether it is the right time to give them your proposal then even those who should be buying might just ignore you. Not because they don’t like what you have to say, but because it’s great information presented at the wrong time. Think carefully before making that next call.


Photo by Yvonne Kao licensed under Creative Commons

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