I’m a big fan of Malcolm Gladwell. His particular genius for collecting data and weaving together fresh insights has produced a wealth of practical wisdom to help us improve the quality of our lives.
But nobody’s perfect.
I recently came across Mr. Gladwell’s 2004 Ted Talk, in which he recounted the career of one Howard Moskowitz, a psychophysicist whose market research for Pepsi Cola, Vlasic Pickles, and Prego Spaghetti Sauce — beginning back in the early 70s — changed the food industry forever. It might seem obvious to us with the wisdom of hindsight but, to make a long story short, Howard Moskowitz discovered that there is no perfect pickle, no ideal type of cola, and no universal favorite recipe for spaghetti sauce.
How big a deal was this? I’ll let Mr. Gladwell explain:
Everyone else in the industry looked at what Howard had done, and they said, “Oh my God! We’ve been thinking all wrong!” And that’s when you started to get seven different kinds of vinegar, and 14 different kinds of mustard, and 71 different kinds of olive oil. And then eventually even Ragù hired Howard, and Howard did the exact same thing for Ragù that he did for Prego. And today, if you go to a really good supermarket, do you know how many Ragùs there are? 36! In six varieties: Cheese, Light, Robusto, Rich & Hearty, Old World Traditional — Extra-Chunky Garden.
All well and good. Now we can all have exactly what we like all the time, without sacrifice, without compromise, without effort.
But then Mr. Gladwell continues, moving on from tomato sauce to mustard. And it is here that Malcolm Gladwell exits the highway of reason and turns onto the backstreets of phantasmagoria.