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Violinist in the Subway – Can we Recognize Talent?

Perhaps you have heard the story:  Internationally acclaimed concert violinist Joshua Bell once agreed to don street clothes and play his $3.5 million dollar Stradivarius violin in a Washington DC subway station, as a social experiment, sponsored by the Washington Post. (Watch the video on YouTube)

Lots of “what-iffing” and supposing was done in advance.  What if he is recognized and a huge crowd gathers?  What if he went unrecognized; wouldn’t people still recognize his extraordinary talent and the difficult pieces he was playing, and stop in their tracks to listen?

So what happened?  Bell played 6 difficult pieces, for a total of 43 minutes.  No one applauded after the pieces ended.  A crowd never gathered.  A very small number of people recognized Bell, and commented to him, but didn’t really linger.  He collected $32.17 in his open violin case, but included in that was a $20 that one admirer gave him.  By the way, Bell took a cab back and forth to his hotel, not because he’s lazy, but to protect the valuable violin.

Sadly, talent often goes unrecognized.  There are too many good singers, dancers and actors to fill the available roles on Broadway and in film.  Too many good writers to fill the pages that fit on the dwindling bookshelves of the world.  And, in business, too many people who can do a great job that will never be discovered by the companies at which they apply.

Many if not most hiring managers do not work to discover whether someone can do the job.  They trust their gut, operate off of superficial first impressions, or even worse, use keywords to sort through resumes, and never even talk to people.  This is why hiring has never become more accurate.  Today, you have about a 57% chance that a new hire will succeed, little better than flipping a coin.  There are ways to discover the talent in a candidate, but they take a little work.  You have to ask relevant questions, then be attentive if “the music” (the person’s true capabilities) starts to play.

Hiring managers are out of their element in interviewing – it is not what they do best.  The few companies that do give their executives training in this discipline benefit greatly with better hires.  So, stop an listen to the music that just might be playing in your reception area, and find the virtuosos.