Short Term Thinking- The Story of the Street Musician

This is the story of how one excellent street musician will never get pocket change from returning visitors. He has short term thinking!

For the past week I have been passing a young street musician who plays a brass instrument. He sits in one of the most congested locations in the city center, daily being heard by tens of thousands of people. My first impression was that he is very talented. He plays a rare instrument so he brings more value than, lets say, a guitar player simply because everyone has heard a guitar at one point in time. The outcome – lot more attention and tips. Without hesitation, I left tips two days in a row.

Here is the fun part – the “value” he brings to the listener somehow started to feel dull after a few days. That is when I noticed something: he was playing the same song all the time! Or 2 which were very similar. You did not have to be a musician to notice the same tunes, which made it even more obscure. This is when I started to ask the following questions:

  • Am I the only one who noticed this?
  • Am I grabbing lunch at the same time daily, so I catch him playing the same song in his repertoire?

To answer my questions I changed my schedule by 15 minutes. And whoala – he did the same thing, even in time differences of 15, 30 and 45 minutes! A song cannot be that long.

Now you would ask yourself what does this story have to do with business at all? Well you see, he does have a product (music with a rare instrument), that brings value to customers (listening to music makes increases happiness) and makes money selling it (or at least tips by anyone who has that wish). But the strategy behind the whole gig is set on short term goals. Why?

Not differentiating customers and their needs

Bringing the same value to every listener might be good in the beginning when no one knows your product. They are aroused by the new tunes and instantly attracted. But this is only for first or second time listeners. I pass there every day at least twice, so in a month I approximately count as 40 first time listeners. Now count all the business people who work around the location, visiting 40 times a month. WOW!


Why would you want to keep your tip box empty? Or, even worse, stop your performance to empty it!? The perception is that he does not attract returning listeners because keeping the box empty attracts pitying first time listeners. They seem to think: “look at this poor talent! No one wants to help him”. But, for me, as a returning listener, this practice had an extremely negative effect. Once you see it, you start to question his credibility and talent. Things will never be the same.

Lack of motivation

Passing few days later I started to notice that he actually lacked energy. Imagine a young person playing a cool instrument, but having no passion and interaction with the public. Why would anyone in their right mind do that? It is all up to the short term goals – they are achieved with a lot less energy than needed, tips are good, I do not care to improve, who cares about returning visitors. Well your goals are way too mediocre for the product you have on hand.

The customer

Well informed customers will not pay for the product/service if the delivery is below average, or if they have been “defrauded” once. But the reality is how many actually are in this group? If such critical mass of customers formed, he would have been changing often and I would have seen it.

Bringing it together!

We can conclude that the street musician’s strategy for short term thinking just enough to please his needs and the market. Who needs to grow when the market has no need for more. Or is that the presumption you need to have? Thinking short term does have immediate rewards, but it does not enable sustainability. Think of this basic example – did people really need the first Ford Model T? Of course they needed it, but did not know it was possible. Now, do really people need the Tesla, when we have a saturated market of combustion engine cars? Time will tell, but it is the future of energy. My point is that eventually short term strategies get run over by those thinking on the long term. Their value is far more superior and customers love them more. Yes, it is extremely hard to think and act on the long run, but it is always worth the wait.

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