How Many Things Are We Missing?


In an earlier blog post Language is not Innocent – How Thinking Patterns are Created we suggested that  people construct thinking patterns from their earlier experiences and the agreements they make with their fellow humans about the meaning of behaviour and things. This is convenient because this ways of engaging in the world produces predictability, routine and coordination. At the same time, it prevents other definitions of the reality. Thinking patterns block alternative views.

As early in 1500 AD Leonard da Vinci identified the necessity of introducing random and chance events to produce variation in one’s thinking patterns. He used random subjects to get inspiration for the thinking task that he was working on, combined with a sharp mindfulness for the unusual he was able to imagine things that later turned into invention centuries later. A good way to develop your skills to imagine and invent is to go somewhere and tell yourself to perceive! Better: take a notebook or a camera with you, and try to spot unusual things. Even better: build it in your daily routine when commuting to work, walking your dog, or watching TV.

Washington, DC Metro Station on a cold January morning in 2007. The man with a violin played six Bach pieces for about 45 minutes. During that time approx. 2 thousand people went through the station, most of them on their way to work. After 3 minutes a middle aged man noticed there was a musician playing. He slowed his pace and stopped for a few seconds and then hurried to meet his schedule.

4 minutes later: The violinist received his first dollar: a woman threw the money in the hat and, without stopping, continued to walk.

6 minutes: A young man leaned against the wall to listen to him, then looked at his watch and started to walk again.

10 minutes: A 3-year old boy stopped but his mother tugged him along hurriedly. The kid stopped to look at the violinist again, but the mother pushed hard and the child continued to walk, turning his head all the time. This action was repeated by several other children. Every parent, without exception, forced their children to move on quickly.

45 minutes: The musician played continuously. Only 6 people stopped and listened for a short while. About 20 gave money but continued to walk at their normal pace. The man collected a total of $32.

1 hour: He finished playing and silence took over. No one noticed. No one applauded, nor was there any recognition.

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 worth $3.5 million dollars. Two days before Joshua Bell sold out a theater in Boston where the seats averaged $100.

From the blog The Long Now. There are several interesting comments on that blog post.

This is a true story. Joshua Bell playing incognito in the metro station. This event was organised by the Washington Post as part of a social experiment about perception, taste and people’s priorities. See for the whole story Pearls for Breakfast.

How many great ideas do you miss because a child suggested them, the person is not in your usual circle of friends, the person lacks a certain education, degree. . . Also is beautiful music only beautiful in certain environments because we never really listen and cannot really judge the skills of a musician? Do you recognise a great painting, singer. . . suggestion. . . invention. . .

How many great ideas are lost because we do not take time to consider them and to listen to people. . . We may try to trick ourselves by using random inspirations such as random words to help us get great ideas, yet we may miss many things because we do take time to stop and perceive things.

Photo “Violinist Man Playing Violin” by Iamnee

2 Replies to “How Many Things Are We Missing?”

  1. Wow thanks for taking the time to share this. I couldn’t agree with you more, I’m by nature a visual person, beautiful colors and nature are a feast for our eyes. There is great inspiration all around.

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