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Annotated captions of Malcolm Gladwell on spaghetti sauce in English

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I think I was supposed to talk about my new book,

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which is called "Blink," and it's about snap judgments and first impressions.

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And it comes out in January, and I hope you all buy it in triplicate.

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But I was thinking about this,

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and I realized that although my new book makes me happy,

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and I think would make my mother happy,

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it's not really about happiness.

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So I decided instead, I would talk about someone who

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I think has done as much to make Americans happy

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as perhaps anyone over the last 20 years,

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a man who is a great personal hero of mine:

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someone by the name of Howard Moskowitz,

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who is most famous for reinventing spaghetti sauce.

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Howard's about this high, and he's round,

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and he's in his 60s, and he has big huge glasses

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and thinning grey hair, and he has a kind of wonderful exuberance and vitality,

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and he has a parrot, and he loves the opera,

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and he's a great aficionado of medieval history.

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And by profession, he's a psychophysicist.

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Now, I should tell you that I have no idea what psychophysics is,

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although at some point in my life, I dated a girl for two years who was getting

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her doctorate in psychophysics.

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Which should tell you something about that relationship. (Laughter)

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As far as I know, psychophysics is about measuring things.

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And Howard is very interested in measuring things.

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And he graduated with his doctorate from Harvard,

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and he set up a little consulting shop in White Plains, New York.

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And one of his first clients was -- this is many years ago, back in the early '70s

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-- one of his first clients was Pepsi.

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And Pepsi came to Howard and they said,

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"You know, there's this new thing called aspartame,

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and we would like to make Diet Pepsi.

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We'd like you to figure out how much aspartame we should put in

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each can of Diet Pepsi, in order to have the perfect drink." Right?

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Now that sounds like an incredibly straightforward question to answer,

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and that's what Howard thought. Because Pepsi told him,

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"Look, we're working with a band between eight and 12 percent.

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Anything below eight percent sweetness is not sweet enough;

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anything above 12 percent sweetness is too sweet.

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We want to know: what's the sweet spot between eight and 12?"

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Now, if I gave you this problem to do, you would all say, it's very simple.

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What we do is you make up a big experimental batch of Pepsi,

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at every degree of sweetness -- eight percent, 8.1, 8.2, 8.3,

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all the way up to 12 -- and we try this out with thousands of people,

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and we plot the results on a curve,

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and we take the most popular concentration. Right? Really simple.

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Howard does the experiment, and he gets the data back, and he plots it on a curve,

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and all of a sudden he realizes it's not a nice bell curve.

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In fact, the data doesn't make any sense.

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It's a mess. It's all over the place.

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Now, most people in that business, in the world of testing food and such,

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are not dismayed when the data comes back a mess.

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They think, well, you know, figuring out what people think about cola's not that easy.

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You know, maybe we made an error somewhere along the way.

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You know, let's just make an educated guess,

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and they simply point and they go for 10 percent, right in the middle.

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Howard is not so easily placated.

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Howard is a man of a certain degree of intellectual standards.

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And this was not good enough for him,

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and this question bedeviled him for years.

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And he would think it through and say, what was wrong?

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Why could we not make sense of this experiment with Diet Pepsi?

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And one day, he was sitting in a diner in White Plains,

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about to go trying to dream up some work for Nescafe.

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And suddenly, like a bolt of lightning, the answer came to him.

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And that is, that when they analyzed the Diet Pepsi data,

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they were asking the wrong question.

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They were looking for the perfect Pepsi,

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and they should have been looking for the perfect Pepsis. Trust me.

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This was an enormous revelation.

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This was one of the most brilliant breakthroughs in all of food science.

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And Howard immediately went on the road,

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and he would go to conferences around the country,

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and he would stand up and he would say,

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"You had been looking for the perfect Pepsi. You're wrong.

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You should be looking for the perfect Pepsis."

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And people would look at him with a blank look, and they would say,

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"What are you talking about? This is craziness."

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And they would say, you know, "Move! Next!"

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Tried to get business, nobody would hire him -- he was obsessed, though,

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and he talked about it and talked about it and talked about it.

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Howard loves the Yiddish expression

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"To a worm in horseradish, the world is horseradish."

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This was his horseradish. (Laughter) He was obsessed with it!

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And finally, he had a breakthrough. Vlasic Pickles came to him,

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and they said, "Mr. Moskowitz -- Doctor Moskowitz --

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we want to make the perfect pickle." And he said,

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"There is no perfect pickle; there are only perfect pickles."

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And he came back to them and he said, "You don't just need to improve your regular;

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you need to create zesty."

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And that's where we got zesty pickles.

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Then the next person came to him, and that was Campbell's Soup.

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And this was even more important. In fact,

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Campbell's Soup is where Howard made his reputation.

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Campbell's made Prego, and Prego, in the early '80s, was struggling next to Ragu,

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which was the dominant spaghetti sauce of the '70s and '80s.

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Now in the industry -- I don't know whether you care about this,

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or how much time I have to go into this.

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But it was, technically speaking -- this is an aside --

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Prego is a better tomato sauce than Ragu.

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The quality of the tomato paste is much better; the spice mix is far superior;

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it adheres to the pasta in a much more pleasing way. In fact,

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they would do the famous bowl test back in the '70s with Ragu and Prego.

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You'd have a plate of spaghetti, and you would pour it on, right?

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And the Ragu would all go to the bottom, and the Prego would sit on top.

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That's called "adherence."

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And, anyway, despite the fact that they were far superior in adherence,

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and the quality of their tomato paste, Prego was struggling.

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So they came to Howard, and they said, fix us.

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And Howard looked at their product line, and he said,

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what you have is a dead tomato society.

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So he said, this is what I want to do.

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And he got together with the Campbell's soup kitchen,

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and he made 45 varieties of spaghetti sauce. And he varied them

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according to every conceivable way that you can vary tomato sauce:

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by sweetness, by level of garlic, by tartness, by sourness, by tomatoey-ness,

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by visible solids -- my favorite term in the spaghetti sauce business. (Laughter)

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Every conceivable way you can vary spaghetti sauce, he varied spaghetti sauce.

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And then he took this whole raft of 45 spaghetti sauces, and he went on the road.

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He went to New York; he went to Chicago; he went to Jacksonville;

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he went to Los Angeles. And he brought in people by the truckload. Into big halls.

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And he sat them down for two hours, and he gave them,

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over the course of that two hours, ten bowls.

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Ten small bowls of pasta, with a different spaghetti sauce on each one.

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And after they ate each bowl, they had to rate, from 0 to 100,

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how good they thought the spaghetti sauce was.

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At the end of that process, after doing it for months and months,

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he had a mountain of data

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about how the American people feel about spaghetti sauce.

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And then he analyzed the data.

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Now, did he look for the most popular brand variety of spaghetti sauce? No!

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Howard doesn't believe that there is such a thing.

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Instead, he looked at the data, and he said,

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let's see if we can group all these different data points into clusters.

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Let's see if they congregate around certain ideas.

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And sure enough, if you sit down, and you analyze all this data on spaghetti sauce,

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you realize that all Americans fall into one of three groups.

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There are people who like their spaghetti sauce plain;

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there are people who like their spaghetti sauce spicy;

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and there are people who like it extra chunky.

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And of those three facts, the third one was the most significant,

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because at the time, in the early 1980s,

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if you went to a supermarket,

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you would not find extra-chunky spaghetti sauce.

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And Prego turned to Howard, and they said,

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"You telling me that one third of Americans crave extra-chunky spaghetti sauce

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and yet no one is servicing their needs?" And he said yes!

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(Laughter) And Prego then went back,

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and completely reformulated their spaghetti sauce,

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and came out with a line of extra chunky that immediately and completely

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took over the spaghetti sauce business in this country.

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And over the next 10 years, they made 600 million dollars

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off their line of extra-chunky sauces.

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And everyone else in the industry looked at what Howard had done, and they said,

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"Oh my god! We've been thinking all wrong!"

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And that's when you started to get seven different kinds of vinegar,

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and 14 different kinds of mustard, and 71 different kinds of olive oil --

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and then eventually even Ragu hired Howard,

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and Howard did the exact same thing for Ragu that he did for Prego.

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And today, if you go to the supermarket, a really good one,

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and you look at how many Ragus there are --

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do you know how many they are? 36!

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In six varieties: Cheese, Light, Robusto,

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Rich & Hearty, Old World Traditional, Extra-Chunky Garden. (Laughter)

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That's Howard's doing. That is Howard's gift to the American people.

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Now why is that important?

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It is, in fact, enormously important. I'll explain to you why.

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What Howard did is he fundamentally changed the way the food industry thinks

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about making you happy.

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Assumption number one in the food industry used to be

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that the way to find out what people want to eat --

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what will make people happy -- is to ask them.

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And for years and years and years and years, Ragu and Prego would have

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focus groups, and they would sit all you people down, and they would say,

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"What do you want in a spaghetti sauce? Tell us what you want in a spaghetti sauce."

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And for all those years -- 20, 30 years --

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through all those focus group sessions,

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no one ever said they wanted extra-chunky.

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Even though at least a third of them, deep in their hearts, actually did.

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(Laughter)

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People don't know what they want! Right?

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As Howard loves to say, "The mind knows not what the tongue wants."

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It's a mystery!

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And a critically important step in understanding our own desires

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and tastes is to realize that we cannot always explain what we want deep down.

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If I asked all of you, for example, in this room, what you want in a coffee,

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you know what you'd say? Every one of you would say, "I want a dark, rich, hearty roast."

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It's what people always say when you ask them what they want in a coffee.

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What do you like? Dark, rich, hearty roast!

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What percentage of you actually like a dark, rich, hearty roast?

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According to Howard, somewhere between 25 and 27 percent of you.

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Most of you like milky, weak coffee.

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But you will never, ever say to someone who asks you what you want

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that "I want a milky, weak coffee." (Laughter)

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So that's number one thing that Howard did.

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Number two thing that Howard did is he made us realize --

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it's another very critical point --

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he made us realize in the importance of what he likes to call "horizontal segmentation."

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Why is this critical? It's critical because

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this is the way the food industry thought before Howard. Right?

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What were they obsessed with in the early '80s? They were obsessed with mustard.

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In particular, they were obsessed with the story of Grey Poupon. Right?

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Used to be, there were two mustards. French's and Gulden's.

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What were they? Yellow mustard. What's in yellow mustard?

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Yellow mustard seeds, turmeric, and paprika. That was mustard.

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Grey Poupon came along, with a Dijon. Right?

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Much more volatile brown mustard seed, some white wine, a nose hit,

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much more delicate aromatics. And what do they do?

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They put it in a little tiny glass jar, with a wonderful enameled label on it,

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made it look French, even though it's made in Oxnard, California.

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And instead of charging a dollar-fifty for the eight-ounce bottle,

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the way that French's and Gulden's did, they decided to charge four dollars.

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And then they had those ads, right? With the guy in the Rolls Royce,

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and he's eating the Grey Poupon. The other Rolls Royce pulls up,

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and he says, do you have any Grey Poupon?

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And the whole thing, after they did that, Grey Poupon takes off!

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Takes over the mustard business!

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And everyone's take-home lesson from that was

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that the way to get to make people happy

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is to give them something that is more expensive, something to aspire to. Right?

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It's to make them turn their back on what they think they like now,

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and reach out for something higher up the mustard hierarchy.

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A better mustard! A more expensive mustard!

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A mustard of more sophistication and culture and meaning.

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And Howard looked to that and said, that's wrong!

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Mustard does not exist on a hierarchy.

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Mustard exists, just like tomato sauce, on a horizontal plane.

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There is no good mustard or bad mustard.

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There is no perfect mustard or imperfect mustard.

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There are only different kinds of mustards that suit different kinds of people.

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He fundamentally democratized the way we think about taste.

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And for that, as well, we owe Howard Moskowitz a huge vote of thanks.

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Third thing that Howard did, and perhaps the most important,

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is Howard confronted the notion of the Platonic dish. (Laughter)

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What do I mean by that?

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For the longest time in the food industry,

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there was a sense that there was one way, a perfect way, to make a dish.

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You go to Chez Panisse, they give you the red-tail sashimi

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with roasted pumpkin seeds in a something something reduction.

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They don't give you five options on the reduction, right?

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They don't say, do you want the extra-chunky reduction, or do you want the -- no!

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You just get the reduction. Why? Because the chef at Chez Panisse

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has a Platonic notion about red-tail sashimi.

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This is the way it ought to be.

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And she serves it that way time and time again,

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and if you quarrel with her, she will say,

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"You know what? You're wrong! This is the best way it ought to be in this restaurant."

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Now that same idea fueled the commercial food industry as well.

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They had a notion, a Platonic notion, of what tomato sauce was.

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And where did that come from? It came from Italy.

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Italian tomato sauce is what? It's blended; it's thin.

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The culture of tomato sauce was thin.

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When we talked about authentic tomato sauce in the 1970s,

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we talked about Italian tomato sauce. We talked about the earliest ragus,

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which had no visible solids, right?

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Which were thin, and you just put a little bit over it

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and it sunk down to the bottom of the pasta.

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That's what it was. And why were we attached to that?

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Because we thought that what it took to make people happy

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was to provide them with the most culturally authentic tomato sauce, A;

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and B, we thought that if we gave them the culturally authentic tomato sauce,

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then they would embrace it.

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And that's what would please the maximum number of people.

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And the reason we thought that -- in other words,

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people in the cooking world were looking for cooking universals.

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They were looking for one way to treat all of us.

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And it's good reason for them to be obsessed with the idea of universals,

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because all of science, through the 19th century and much of the 20th,

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was obsessed with universals.

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Psychologists, medical scientists, economists were all interested in finding out

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the rules that govern the way all of us behave.

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But that changed, right?

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What is the great revolution in science of the last 10, 15 years?

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It is the movement from the search for universals to the understanding of variability.

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Now in medical science, we don't want to know how necessarily --

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just how cancer works, we want to know how your cancer is different from my cancer.

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I guess my cancer different from your cancer.

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Genetics has opened the door to the study of human variability.

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What Howard Moskowitz was doing was saying, this same revolution

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needs to happen in the world of tomato sauce.

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And for that, we owe him a great vote of thanks.

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I'll give you one last illustration of variability, and that is -- oh, I'm sorry.

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Howard not only believed that, but he took it a second step,

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which was to say that when we pursue universal principles in food,

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we aren't just making an error; we are actually doing ourselves a massive disservice.

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And the example he used was coffee.

tedtalks 16:16
16:21

And coffee is something he did a lot of work with, with Nescafe.

tedtalks 16:21
16:24

If I were to ask all of you to try and come up with a brand of coffee

tedtalks 16:24
16:27

-- a type of coffee, a brew -- that made all of you happy,

tedtalks 16:27
16:29

and then I asked you to rate that coffee,

tedtalks 16:29
16:34

the average score in this room for coffee would be about 60 on a scale of 0 to 100.

tedtalks 16:34
16:37

If, however, you allowed me to break you into coffee clusters,

tedtalks 16:37
16:39

maybe three or four coffee clusters,

tedtalks 16:39
16:44

and I could make coffee just for each of those individual clusters,

tedtalks 16:44
16:48

your scores would go from 60 to 75 or 78.

tedtalks 16:48
16:53

The difference between coffee at 60 and coffee at 78

tedtalks 16:53
16:56

is a difference between coffee that makes you wince,

tedtalks 16:56
17:00

and coffee that makes you deliriously happy.

tedtalks 17:00
17:04

That is the final, and I think most beautiful lesson, of Howard Moskowitz:

tedtalks 17:04
17:08

that in embracing the diversity of human beings,

tedtalks 17:08
17:11

we will find a surer way to true happiness.

tedtalks 17:11
17:13

Thank you.