(Beauty) Value is Everywhere. You Just Need to Know How to Look For It

For this post, I’ve included a video that has received more than twenty million views. While it doesn’t have anything to do with investing, it is one of the most illuminating and instructive videos an investor could see all year. Actually, it carries a crucial message that can impact anyone’s life. Of course, I choose to view it through the lens of an investor.

The video shows a young man dressed in a t-shirt, jeans, and a baseball hat playing the violin in a Washington, DC Metro station during the peak morning rush hour. He appears like any other street musician, staking out a spot to play and laying his open violin case in front of him for receiving tips. As you might expect at a busy subway station at rush hour, hundreds of people enter the station and, without so much as a brief pause to see what the musician had to offer, rush right past him. Unbeknownst to them, the musician was the internationally acclaimed virtuoso Joshua Bell, playing one of the most magnificent classical pieces ever written on a $3.5 million Stradivarius.

Bell sells out concert halls across the globe. Just two days before, Bell had played a sold-out concert in Boston, commanding more than $150 a ticket, earning him about $1,000 a minute. That day in the subway station, he would receive about $32 in tips, twenty dollars of which came from a person who did recognize him because she had just seen him play the night before at the Library of Congress. From the other nearly 1,100 people rushing by during Bell’s 45-minute performance, he earned another $12, including a lot of pennies. At any given moment during the performance, only a handful of people stopped to enjoy the music. When he finished a piece, there was no applause, no recognition of his obvious talent.

A Social Experiment in Context, Perception, and Priorities

Normally, Bell, who travels the world ten times over each year, does not play at subway stations. This performance was arranged by the Washington Post as an experiment in context, perception, and priorities – a test of whether, in a banal setting at an inconvenient time, ordinary people would recognize beauty when they heard it.

While many conclusions were drawn about the experiment, including that maybe the 1,100 people just weren’t into violins enough to risk being late to work. That’s fine and probably true to a great extent. But one conclusion drawn by a person in response to the Washington Post article undoubtedly applies to anyone. That is if we don’t have just a moment to stop and listen to one of the most renowned musicians in the world, playing magnificently with one of the most stunningly beautiful instruments ever made, how many other things are we missing?

Finding Those Moments of Wealth

There was one woman who stopped to view the performance. She was the one with the twenty dollar bill. She took up residence about ten feet from Bell. When the performance ended, she walked up to Bell and told him she recognized him from his performance at the Library of Congress the previous night. They had a brief conversation, and you could tell she was glowing from the experience. It was a real moment of wealth for her (a nice moment for Bell as well after being ignored by 1,100 people). Granted, she had more context than the other people, but you still have to wonder how their lives might have been impacted had they paused to take in the moment.

What Are Investors Missing?

To me, it was a perfect metaphor for what happens with investors who miss out on tremendous opportunities because they can’t recognize value when they see it. They miss them for a variety of reasons. They miss them because they’re distracted by the noise of manic headlines. They miss them because of the clutter in their lives. They miss them because they’re drawn to sexy but overpriced investments. They miss them because they think they need superpowers when all they need is some essential research tools as well as the mental aptitude and emotional intelligence to find the nominal value amid an otherwise chaotic and overpriced market.

I encourage everyone who reads this post to watch the video to remind you of how you might be missing out on your own moments of wealth.


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