ad Silicon Tails: January 2008

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Lessons from the food industry

Christina Wodtke pointed me to this wonderful short talk by Malcolm Gladwell in which he relates a story of a food industry consultant who uncovered a key secret to what eaters like. Through the story Gladwell touches on a number of points that everyone in product and market research struggle with, including the fallacious yet widely held belief that consumers can and will verbally articulate their desires and needs. He also touches on something even more important, namely that research is considered to be essentially a quest for universal rules that govern behavior and attitudes when in fact we have seen a major shift in the philosophy of science away from universality and essences towards particulars and variability (as well as in specific fields of study such as genetics and psychology). The Gladwell story might as well have been phrased in the context of the different notions of human knowledge expressed by Plato and Aristotle. There is no perfect (enter item: tomato sauce, car, search engine etc.) - there are clusters of products within each area that will serve different needs of different segments. Problem is, if we spend our time searching for universals we will miss those different needs and their particular instantiations in peoples' lives and we will also miss great product ideas and business opportunities hiding right under our noses. Anyways, I'm already taking the fun and insights out of talk, watch it yourself.