what are we trying to do?

Mark Minelli

Our small firm works with complex organizations that offer complex initiatives targeting complex audience types. We work hard to strategize, synthesize, crystallize, and symbolize their meaning and intent. Layer in factors of pre-existing public biases, existing market conditions, the role of social networking, and the will to strive for lofty goals…

Ouch! My head hurts.

This morning, I was reminded of perhaps a simpler, humbler way to think about what we should hope for and expect our work to do. I stood in the subway station coming back to our office after visiting a client…much to do, process, prioritize…a million thoughts spiraled through my head. Amidst the screech and hum of the moving trains, I suddenly became aware of the music that swirled through the slightly musty platform air.

Looking around, I saw him…a musician, crouched around his cello, playing one of Bach’s Unaccompanied Cello Suites, and playing it very, very well. I love all kinds of music, but this is the stuff of the gods…a single cello that mimics the human voice, more closely than any other instrument ever created. The melody soared and wove around the hard station columns.

Most people streamed past the musician without even looking up. I stopped, listened, and found respite. The million things banging in my head melted away until it was just the man, the music, and me. We made eye contact, and then I placed money in an empty instrument case while giving a bow of appreciation to acknowledge the maker of these magical sounds. Then a train pulled in and he silently mouthed, “thank you.” I replied, “Just beautiful man, thank you.”

The musician smiled broadly and returned to his art, happy that it had been received. And in that moment I believed that he felt more joy from my acknowledgement than from seeing me toss money into the velvet-lined case.

As I stepped onto the train that idled by the platform, a woman said to me “good for you.” And it was good for me…good for both the musician and me, in fact. What had really happened? There had been a pause in the chaos of the day, a point of exchange, and a briefly shared experience of meaning. Technically there was a financial transaction, too, but this moment represented something much truer and more valuable than that.

Hmmm. Not a bad goal for the strategy, symbols, and brands that we help our clients forge. If we can give every organization we serve the tools to create a similar pause in which people can experience exchanges that lead to shared meaning at a very deep human level…then maybe we really can do better by doing good.