A man sat at a metro station in Washington DC and started to play the violin; it was a cold January morning. He played six Bach pieces for about 45 minutes. During that time, since it was rush hour, it was calculated that thousands of people went through the station, most of them on their way to work.

Three minutes went by and a middle aged man noticed there was musician playing. He slowed his pace and stopped for a few seconds and then hurried up to meet his schedule.

A minute later, the violinist received his first dollar tip: a woman threw the money in the till and without stopping continued to walk.

A few minutes later, someone leaned against the wall to listen to him, but the man looked at his watch and started to walk again. Clearly he was late for work.

The one who paid the most attention was a 3 year old boy. His mother tagged him along, hurried but the kid stopped to look at the violinist.

Finally the mother pushed hard and the child continued to walk turning his head all the time. This action was repeated by several other children. All the parents, without exception, forced them to move on.

In the 45 minutes the musician played, only 6 people stopped and stayed for a while. About 20 gave him money but continued to walk their normal pace. He collected $32. When he finished playing and silence took over, no one noticed it. No one applauded, nor was there any recognition.

No one knew this but the violinist was Joshua Bell, one of the top 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 his playing in the subway, Joshua Bell sold out at a theater in Boston and the seats average $100.

This is a real story. Joshua Bell playing incognito in the metro station was organized by the Washington Post as part of a social experiment about perception, taste and priorities of people. The outlines were: in a commonplace environment at an inappropriate hour: Do we perceive beauty?

Do we stop to appreciate it? Do we recognize the talent in an unexpected context?

One of the possible conclusions from this experience could be: If we do not have a moment to stop and listen to one of the best musicians in the world playing the best music ever written, how many other things are we missing.

— Unknown writer, but see this link for more information.

Many years ago General Electric acquired the small firm that I worked for, and my job changed from being a a senior figure in this firm to a mid-level manager within one of GE’s companies.  This was not my dream job, and when GE had a “reduction in force” I was delighted to be able to leave it with a very desirable packet of benefits.  The one I thought I didn’t need was the job counseling — but it turned out to be one of the most valuable benefits I received.

“Don’t just write a resume of positions you’ve held”, the counselor told us.  “Think of all the times you’ve added value to your company, or to a client, and write each of these up as a ‘worth point”.  Your resume should be a set of these worth points, and you can save others for use in particular job interviews.”  The format of a “worth point” was very specific:

  1. In my job, I noticed a need / opportunity.
  2. Responding to that, I took initiative — with very specific action
  3. My company / organization experience some direct benefit from my effort.

For example:

  1. We wrote custom specifications for each of our clients.  I noticed that many elements of each spec were common.
  2. So, I designed a generic specification form, that would make it much easier to re-use specifications pages from one document in another (that was for a different client).
  3. As a result, the time to prepare each spec was reduced by xx%, typically a saving of $yyy.

I ended up working for myself as a consultant, and never again seeking a full time job, but this advice in building my resume was still very helpful.  I learned to think of what I was doing as adding value, rather than just performing tasks.  And when telling prospects about how I can help them, my story is not about thingss I can do, but about how my work will add value.

Indeed, clients hire me to add value to their organization, and not just to provide a product, perform a service, train somebody in a skill.

When asked to help clients in marketing strategy, this idea informs the question that I always ask them:  How will you add value to your clients?

“What business are you in, and how to you add value to your clients?”

That’s the key question I want to ask of new prospects for my consulting services, and for my commercial photography as well.

For coaching (which I prefer to call “clarifying”), the question is turned around: “How can I help you add value to your life?”

In both cases, what matters is not what each of us does, but how it adds value. “What do you do?” as a question may bring a quick simple answer, but rarely the kind of thoughtful and searching response that, “How do you add value …?” or “How can I add value to you?” can provoke.

A good accountant doesn’t just enter transactions, balance the accounts, and prepare reports.  He or she can keep their client in touch with the flow of money and debt within the organization, enable more accurate forecasting and planning, make the financial realities of the organization visible to all he need to understand them.  (They may be other ways value is added, as well.)

How do you add value?  And how can I add value to you?