Of spaghetti sauce and office buildings, or: The concept of taste variety

Of spaghetti sauce and office buildings, or: The concept of taste variety

Do you know Malcolm Gladwell’s remarkable TED speech? No? You can find a link below. Quickly summarized: It’s about the groundbreaking insights of the psycho-physicist Dr. Howard Moskovitz who discovered something in the mid-90s that still impacts us today.
Campbell’s Soup commissioned him to find the perfect recipe for spaghetti sauce through consumer analysis. So he drove through the US with 45 different sauces of various flavors, textures, and kinds of tomatoes. He let people taste and taste and taste… and found: There is no ONE perfect spaghetti sauce! The trial eaters could be broken into clusters according to what they liked, but not all of them liked the same.
Heureka! Moskovitz scientifically confirmed that different people have different preferences, brought Campbell’s Soup the market leadership, and incidentally revolutionized the food industry. Today there isn’t just one Nespresso flavor; we can choose from 27 different flavors, and that is one of the ambivalent results of Moscovitz’ work.
Malcolm Gladwell’s talk closes with the wonderful statement: “In embracing the diversity of human beings we will find a surer way to true happiness.”

The same grub every day?

Why am I telling you this? Believe it or not: Spaghetti sauce and office buildings have a lot in common. Before your work place was designed, did someone ask you what you would like? We keep wondering why large consulting firms specialized on workplace organization still try to convince their clients that in order to maximize flexibility all desks in the office should be the same. It was 30 years ago that Moskovitz proved with a truckload of sauces that different people are wired differently.
Just take a closer look at the wild mix of a staff: bookkeeping, development, sales, marketing, and – last but not least – the nerds from IT. Some need quiet, others are in meetings all day, some rack everybody’s nerves with loud phone conversations. How stupid would it be to measure everything by the same yardstick?
The road to a sustainable improvement of work spaces and consequently to happy employees leads through an understanding of customer variety. Just like Moskovitz couldn’t avoid going on the road and letting people taste, you cannot develop a good office building without leaving the executive floor and talking to the employees. (You, and not just the architects.) That responsibility can’t be passed on; you can’t let a consultant do the job. “Change will not happen – we’re in the middle of it,” Prof. Weinberg of the Design Thinking School in Berlin says – the change from IQ to WeQ, from Merriam-Webster thinking to Wikipedia thinking. With that change comes a focus on the empowerment of each person and a focus on participative processes where everyone chimes in. No participation = no talents, no growth, no innovation.

The ox doesn’t eat what he doesn’t know?

Actually, he does. But – and that has to be emphasized – many companies are afraid of involving their employees in processes as expensive as the reconstruction, renovation, or revitalization of their branch. Afraid of losing control, afraid of cost explosions, or afraid of endless discussions leading nowhere but to dissatisfaction instead of community spirit.
For years we have been conducting workshops that accompany our planning process. We know what we’re talking about when we claim: The fear is unfounded. On the contrary, the advantages for the company are immense.
The planners understand inner structures faster when they are communicated in conversations with employees and not through checklists.
The more complex a task the more important it is to view it from multiple perspectives. Only when many have been heard can you be sure that all important questions were asked.
Transparency of the development process creates trust among the employees – acting behind closed doors, however, stokes counterproductive rumors.
A good workshop structure can avoid conflicts between departments – which inhibit innovation – and generate inspiring exchange instead. That is what leads to sustainable culture change. “Today was the first time in our company’s 135 years that we spread a decision on so many shoulders. But I know one thing: It feels pretty good,” the managing director of Carl Stahl, one of the world market leaders for ropes and lifting technologies, comments after a joint workshop. Here’s to you!
Work areas, break rooms, or spaghetti sauce – it’s the blend that counts, the ingredients. The full-bodied flavor and stimulating scent of jointly developed concepts convinces even the biggest cynic… Because everyone enjoys a jointly cooked meal.

Malcolm Gladwell about spaghetti sauce

15.02.2015 in