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Becoming Memorable: The Violinist and The Subway

On a cold day in January of 2007, a violinist played for money during a busy rush hour commute at a Metro station in Washington D.C.

This is not an unfamiliar site in most cities; New York, Chicago, Boston, etc.  People down on their luck but with musical talents, looking to make a few bucks.

But this was no ordinary violinist.  It was Joshua Bell, one of the most celebrated masters of the violin in modern times.  What the heck was he doing playing in the streets for money?

This was an experiment set up by Washington Post columnist Gene Weingarten.  You walk by street musicians and pay them little or no attention.  But what if that street musician was actually a world-famous virtuoso?  Would his unparalleled skill make you pause during your daily commute?  Would you notice?  Would he be memorable?

The results of the experiment were fascinating.  People were surveyed after walking by Bell and the vast majority of them had no idea anything special had occurred.  Only seven people stopped to listen; one of whom recognized Bell.  Here’s the video:


So what’s the lesson here?

This social experiment reinforced something I was taught in dental school.  At SUNY Stony Brook School of Dental Medicine, Dr. Barry Waldman preached two lessons that have served me well.

(1) “You will make more money with your mouth than with your hands.”

(2) “People don’t care what you do to them unless it hurts, turns black, or falls out.”

Essentially, our patients are less concerned with our clinical skills and more concerned by how we make them feel and what we say.

Maybe you create the most beautiful crown preparations on the planet.  Maybe you can carve intricate anatomy into your amalgam and composite restorations.  These are great skills that will serve you well.  However, I guarantee you that most patients care more about whether or not you and your staff were rude to them.

I know very little about cars, so I don’t know if my mechanic does a good job unless my car breaks down again with the same problem.  I care more about how he treats me as a person.

I do not have a finely-tuned ear for violinists, so I probably wouldn’t know if I was walking by a virtuoso playing in the street.  What would change the equation?  If there was a camera crew filming him.  If there was already a large crowd around him.  If he had a large sign that said, “I’m Joshua Bell, World-Famous Violinist.”

To become memorable you must do more than be skilled.  You must create a buzz and leave a positive impression.

Here are a few ideas on how to do that:


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