Monday, April 16, 2007

Context is Everything

This past Sunday I came across a reprint in a local paper of a Washington Post article titled Pearls Before Breakfast. (Well worth the read.) It described an experiment that involved virtuoso violist Joshua Bell posing as a busker in the D.C transit system (L'Enfant Plaza) and playing a number of notable classical pieces to see if anyone would notice. He made $32.17 for 43 minutes of playing, and only a few of the 1,097 passers-by took true notice, one of which recognized Bell from a past concert performance. An interesting, perhaps not unexpected result.

A number of the people who walked by were interviewed by the writer, and was seems to be relatively consistent is that people were more or less "tuned out" - they were focused on their journey, their personal challenges, their work challenges. Being a commuter, I can certainly understand.

But I think context plays into this story as well. No one was expecting to see a concert violinist who can earn up to $1000 a minute (and did the soundtrack for the Red Violin by the way) busk dressed in jeans, a t-shirt and ball cap.

That's completely out of context. Like meeting someone in a local shopping mall that you only see at the cottage. You either don't see them at all, or they look vaguely familiar but you can't place them.

To me, this certainly points (again) to the importance of context in information, learning and knowledge creation.

1 comment:

Katarzyna Krolak-Wyszynska said...

Dale, this is an excellent story to talk about context and its importance!
And it also shows the power of mental models that Peter Senge writes about in "Fifth Discipline". We are not used to find pearls in transit system so even if we do find them, we consider them just plastic rubbish.
This is what each of us should work on in order to make better use of unexpected opportunities.