I give change to pretty much everyone that asks for it on the street. This includes street performers.
It’s a habit I’ve developed since briefly working for Homeless Nation, an organization that has gotten a lot of accolades over the years for its work in Canadian cities on behalf of their homeless population.
Today though, I want to talk about one particular incident– at Plaza l’Enfant Station in 2007, one cold January morning in Washington, a young violinist is playing. He’s wearing a Nationals baseball cap. In one hour, 1,097 people pass him by. He makes $32.
What makes this one different?
“No one knew this, but the violinist was Joshua Bell, one of the greatest musicians in the world. He played one of the most intricate pieces ever written, with a violin valued at $3.5 million dollars. Two days before, Joshua Bell sold out a theatre in Boston where the price of seats averaged $100.”
Context Is King
You’ve heard this before, it isn’t news. People rehash “Content is King” into all sorts of phrases to prove whatever point they please, again and again (it’s the mashing-up of culture). But I’d like to take this one a bit further.
The content you’re producing is the same whether it’s on a blog, in a book, on a stage, or being broadcast from space. There are millions of brilliant ideas being uttered right now in the privacy of people’s homes that won’t be written down, and won’t ever be heard again.
You may not think this, but you are in media. Whether you have a blog, use Twitter, or even have a Facebook account, you are part of a media revolution. And as a media personality, your reach depends on one thing only: Sneaking your way onto the largest, most prestigious platform you can find.
If we had written Trust Agents entirely on the web (in the way of the Cluetrain Manifesto, say), would it have reached as many people? Sure, it may even have reached more. But as a book it reaches a different audience and, more importantly, it stands on a different stage.
Either way, the content is exactly the same.
I just finished reading Alain de Botton’s Status Anxiety. It was a great read, but was it made greater by the fact that I first heard of its premise on the TED website? Unquestionably.
Would it have had the same impact if it were a blog? What about if he were heard yelling in the street? Think about it.
Last story. I was at the Contemporary Museum yesterday and saw the Francine Savard exhibit. Some (ok, many) people might dismiss her work as ridiculous and useless– after all, in one series, she literally “paints” the visualization of a hard drive being defragmented. In blue.
But it’s in a huge metropolitan city’s museum.
I’m not here trying to discuss the value of her work– only that all of these are credentials. Because we consider people in power to be largely like us, we assume there must be some value in the decisions they’ve made– whether that’s putting someone’s paintings in a gallery, their words in a book, or giving them time on a stage.
In every case, context imprints either a high or low status on each project.
Your work may be good or bad– that’s your business, not mine. But if you value it, you’re going to have to borrow the status of someone else– get their testimonials, borrow their platform, whatever it takes, until you develop your own. Otherwise you’re just another person with another blog, or trying to make a buck on the street.
Doesn’t matter how good you are. Obviously.