Today I stumbled over an article from the Washington Post that describes the following experiment:

1197114803978823243papapishu_violin.svg.medOn Friday, January 12, 2007 at 7:51 a.m. a young man with a baseball cap carrying a little case entered the D.C. Metro station L’Enfant Plaza. He positioned himself in front of a naked wall, next to a trashcan, took a violin from his case, which he filled with a few loose coins to attract attention and started to play.

During the 43 minutes of his performance 1,097 people passed by. Some people threw a few coins into the case without slowing down, because – after all – they were on their way to work. The performer earned 32$ in total from those who gave a donation. Only – and I quote “seven people stopped what they were doing to hang around and take in the performance, at least for a minute.”

Little did they know that the performer was a famous musician who only days before his performance in the Metro had filled Boston Symphony Hall where even an average seat cost 100$. And as if that was not enough the instrument he was playing on that day, next to his trashcan, was a special instrument handcrafted in 1713 by Antonio Stradivari with an estimated value of 3.5 million dollars.

Perception & Context

So, what is the difference between a world class virtuoso and a fiddler underground?

Skills, experience, practice?

Contrary to what most of us think, perception & context appear to have the last say, here.

Some may believe this is a sad thing. That people only look on the surface. That this is “not good”.

On the other hand, there is a great insight here about human nature:

While the majority of people, like in the experiment above, cannot recognize a talent when they are confronted with it, neither will they realize a fraud when it’s being advertised by “respectable” people and soaked with perceived value. Whatever we do, we are fairly invisible to other people’s perception and have a lot more freedom than we might think. In other words: We worry a lot about what others might think about us. And yet, in most cases, they don’t even see who we are.

Talking about education, in a society of majority consent and public appearance, mere talks about “value” will not create any.

Attending renowned schools, lectures and colleges will look good on your CV, it will make you look wise, but it won’t necessarily give you the best possible learning conditions available on this planet. In the same way, not listening to people simply because they don’t have any “credentials” or are from the “wrong” cultural or class background will not hurt your image, but you might miss a chance to learn from someone with real experience, as exemplified by the “doctor” in the movie “The King’s Speech”.

Once upon a time, universities were the place to go when you had a deep desire to study.

Nowadays, universities are turning into places where the wealthy can send their children, so that they will appear educated, later.

In the end, the proof is in the pudding.

Can you perform, when put to the task? Beyond other’s opinion of what you can do: Is your intention to study or to appear studied?

Can you recognize talent, when it’s right in front of your eyes?

Or will you pass by a virtuoso today and reserve tickets for mediocrity the next day?