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Seven Million Viewers, But How Many Listened?

July 20, 2017


Since Malcolm Gladwell gave his TED talk Choice, Happiness & Spaghetti Sauce in 2004, it’s been viewed almost 7 million times. But how many of those viewers actually listened to it?


Gladwell highlights a transformative moment for the food industry. Prior to this moment, CPG firms continually sought the ideal version of each food. Come up with the best version, the theory went, and everyone will flock to your brand. You’ll win the market.


In the mid-80s, everything changed when Prego hired Howard Moskowitz. Moskowitz researched more than 40 varieties of spaghetti sauce and discovered there was no single, ideal version. In the case of spaghetti sauce, there were actually three versions that appealed to consumers: plain, spicy, and extra-chunky. In fact, one-third of consumers wanted extra-chunky spaghetti sauce.


Why was that important? Not a single brand was offering chunky sauce at the time. It was deemed by the industry as the antithesis of “good” spaghetti sauce. Prego followed Moskowitz’s recommendation and launched the first line of chunky sauces. And they earned more than $600 million dollars in the next 10 years.


So, who’s not listening? Every brand utilizes consumer research and segmentation today, right?


We listened to the insight Moskowitz developed (and the $600 million Prego earned) but we didn’t listen to the bigger lesson. Moskowitz didn’t just bring segmentation to Prego, he brought the values of an innovative culture.


Innovation thrives when the right combination of skills, processes and values are brought together. Moskowitz is the embodiment of the last requirement – the values needed for an organization to be perpetually innovative:

  • Curiosity – constantly asking ‘why’ and ‘what if’

  • Humility– actively seeking learning opportunities even when they have vast experience

  • Flexibility – able to adjust course regardless of the time and effort already invested in the current path

  • Actionable – able to move forward with incomplete information

  • Customer focused – prioritizes the goal of meeting consumer needs above other corporate goals


If we limit the story of Howard Moskowitz & Prego to the brilliant discovery of food optimization, then we’re only appreciating half the lesson. Moskowitz is a living model of the values that lead to innovation. As Gladwell described, “For too long, people in positions of authority in places like the food industry assumed that it was their job to define what pasta sauce was or what diet cola was and to educate the rest of us to the point that we agree with them. That’s backward.”


When you think of Howard Moskowitz, don’t just think of the way he changed the food industry. Use him as a model for your innovative culture.

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