Monday, May 17, 2010

Malcolm Gladwell on spaghetti sauce

By Mike B.

What is the perfect blend of spices and variety of tomatoes that go into a spaghetti sauce? How is the perfect pickle made? Which type of coffee is most craved by the American people? Well, really, there is not just one type, not one specific brand or blend that is better than the rest. People are different from each other and these different people have different tongues, and minds, that give persons cravings for different types of food. People are found in many types,many flavours, and blends if you will. If you are looking for a perfect recipe, you will not find it. Not everyone will enjoy the same dish, so a variety is required.

Malcolm Gladwell is a New York Times columnist and author who has written several books. Gladwell was apparently asked to give his talk on his new book Blink that is, “about snap judgements and first impressions.” His main topic however is Howard Moskowitz. His rational on changing his topic is that his book might please himself and his mother but not everyone. So he talks about a man whose goal in life is to please everyone. Gladwell gives a great description of Howard, and then gives some background information to give the audience a better understanding of the man. Howard Moskowitz is a psychophysicist, which, according to Gladwell means that he measures things; however, the proper term for what Moskowitz does is psychometrics. Be that as it may, after Howard “graduated with his doctorate from Harvard, and he set up a little consulting shop in White Plains, New York.” Then Gladwell goes on to tell about the problems that Howard encounters with one of his first clients, Pepsi. His task was to find the “sweet spot” for a new drink, Diet Pepsi. He was given a range between 8 and 12 percent aspartame, in which to find this new drink. So, as would most people do, he set up a big tasting survey. Moskowitz varied the level of sweetness from eight through twelve, then collected data and plotted it. To his frustration, a predicted bell curve was not formed, and so finding the “sweet spot” had become more difficult. After years of mulling around the question in his head, Howard discovered that in the Pepsi experiments, "They were looking for the perfect Pepsi, and they should have been looking for the perfect Pepsis." By stating this simple fact, it would change the way that food science is done. People do not want one generic brand of anything,;a variety gives the consumer choice, and choosing what you want makes us all happy.

Gladwell goes on to explain the work that Howard did for Vlasic pickles, not only improving their regular but also giving them the inspiration for a new type of pickles, "and that's where we got zesty pickles." Next Moskowitz came to work for Campbell. This is when he discovers the huge disservice that is done to the American public. Their tongues wanted to indulge in some extra chunky and spicy spaghetti sauce, and yet they received plain. Howard came upon this by doing another survey of 46 types of sauce varied by, "by sweetness, by level of garlic, by tartness, by sourness, by tomatoey-ness, by visible solids." Then he groups the plots and data into groups, realizing the demand for these different sauces. Due to Howard's work, millions of people enjoy their pasta more, with the over 36 types available. The company Prego made, "600 million dollars off their line of extra-chunky sauces," in the ten years following Howard's discovery. This revolutionized the product marked, making companies provide many types of their goods. Malcolm give other examples of this in the mustard and coffee market. In these examples he is highlighting the fact that sometimes, "The mind knows not what the tongue wants." It is important to try different things, and flavours -to discover what tastes the best on a personal level.

Malcolm Gladwell's speaking style is very entertaining. It had the crowd laughing at many times during the talk. He gave funny quotes such as, "to a worm in horseradish, the world is horseradish." He used this quote to explain Howard's obsession with the Pepsi dilemma. Overall, the speaker was very keen about his subject, he gave very detailed numbers and quotes. Gladwell made the talk entertaining and yet informational at the same time. He did not stumble very much and he incorporates the audience to make this talk fun. I would willingly pick up one or more of his books after hearing his voice in person. His stage presents was felt by just watching the video. I enjoyed Malcolm Gladwell's ability to tell stories and his wonderful explanations. Here is Gladwell describing Howard, "Howard's about this high, and he's round, and he's in his sixties, and he has big huge glasses and thinning grey hair, and he has a kind of wonderful exuberance and vitality, and he has a parrot, and he loves the opera, and he's a great aficionado of medieval history." Of course watching him describe is half of the experience, but that section gave me a perfect mental image of an elderly man, in my mind looking like 'Carl Fredricksen' from the 2009 film Up.

The main message in Gladwell's talk is that all of us enjoy different things, conformity limits freedom, and people enjoy a choice. Both freedom and choice can aspire to happiness in a person. Howards work has given millions of people happiness over the years. So, next time you are enjoying a nice big bowl of spicy, extra chunky spaghetti sauce covered noodles, send a vibe of thanks to Howard. This is a wonderful talk; I encourage anyone to views this talk done by this engaging speaker.

No comments:

Post a Comment