Are you an unrecognised genius?

150joshua-bellA few years ago, Joshua Bell stood in the entrance to a busy subway station in New York, playing the violin like any other busker. In case you don't know (I didn't), he's one of the world's top violinists, and he was playing a Stradivarius worth US$3.5million.

And nobody took any fucking notice.


In the same vein, researchers have conducted tasting experiments in which ordinary people reported that hugely expensive, top quality, vintage wine tastes no better than the cheap stuff. But they didn't know they were drinking the good stuff, just as the people in the station didn't know they were walking past a world famous musician. When you tell the wine drinkers that one of the wines is incredibly costly, and ask them to compare it to the normal stuff, suddenly it starts to taste nicer. Charge them hundreds of dollars to listen to the busker, and he becomes one of the world's best musicians.

The value of something, the work you do, is not purely intrinsic. Greatness needs a context in which to be great. You need people to pay attention, and give them a reason to believe in your genius before they can see it.

An ad on the internet is like a guy in the corner of the station playing the violin - we turn our heads the other way because we don't want to pay attention. The bigger, louder, more insistent our ad, the more it becomes a nuisance. It's like the guy following you around playing bad violin, or pushing you to taste the wine in the supermarket. It doesn't matter how good the offering is, we don't want it, because anyone can place an ad or stand on a corner with a violin. If you're not in a special place, if you're not being endorsed by people who are enthusiastic about your field, even if you're a genius, you're a nobody.

I'm willing to believe you may be a genius, because most geniuses are never discovered, but you need to find a context in which to shine. Only then can you be brilliant.