How Spaghetti Connects Your Soul and Your Purse Strings
Sometimes, you don’t need a Quentin Tarantino movie for a roller coaster ride.
I was at a dinner table with a friend. He casually chimed in, ”When you first said you were writing, I thought you would write about food.” I arched my head back. Yes, like lot of folks from Indian subcontinent, I have animated conversations about food. He surprised me with his extrapolation to writing — perceptions are always good to know.
I chuckled and with a broad smile added, “I get inspired by daily life incidents and correlations to professional life.” Without missing a beat, he added, “I have read a few of your writings, I still think food is your forte.”
Knowing him, I played along, “What specifically do you want me to write about?” He looked up, with loaded fork in hand, he shared the first word in his mind- “Spaghetti”. Contours of a smile were visible as the spaghetti rolled up on the fork made its way into his mouth.
Not to be outdone, I added, “Malcolm Gladwell arrived at the same contrarian conclusion on marketing with Spaghetti sauce that Steve Job is famous for.” It was his turn to arch his head back.
Malcolm in a TED talk shared how Howard, a guy from White Plains New York, reignited Prego Sauce. In the 1980’s, Ragu was number uno. Howard toured the country with 45 different types of Prego sample sauces and when he put all American taste results together, he concluded 1/3 liked it plain, 1/3 liked it spicy and 1/3 liked it extra chunky. And Prego’s extra chunky sauce was born — a big money spinner. The most interesting part — for 20 to 30 years prior to this experiment, when the question of “what you do want in a spaghetti sauce?” was posed to focus groups, nobody said extra chunky!
Steve Jobs is known to have touched a nerve on traditional marketing with these words “It’s really hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”
It seems to mirror Howard’s words (propagated by Malcolm) “The mind knows not what the tongue wants.” Well until you taste it!
It was my friend’s turn to chuckle, he asked, “what else?” I said, “I need to think about it.” As I thought about it, spaghetti gave me some bigger aha moments.
Spaghetti Tower, Marshmallow Challenge
Tom Wejec conducted an experiment: in 18 minutes, teams must build the tallest free-standing structure with about 20 sticks of spaghetti, one yard of tape, one yard of string, and one marshmallow. One key condition: the marshmallow needs to be on top.
He ran this experiment on multiple teams. Engineers and Architects topped the list, no surprises there. Two interesting results, one gave me a chuckle and one gave me a great aha.
1) Average spaghetti tower by kindergarteners = 27 inches, average height by recent MBA graduate teams = 10 inches. The kid’s secret -prototyping. The kids got to work. They quickly figured out that adding the marshmallow at the end has misgivings. They iterates their way to the solution.
Recent MBAs planned. They towered a solution. When they perched the marshmallow, it triggered a collapse, much to their chagrin. Sometimes, what we learn can prove to be our nemesis in certain context. A good data point with spaghetti on both sides of education.
2) This result just blew me away. Tom Wejec ,in his TED talk, shares tongue in cheek that he knew ahead that CEO teams will perform better when he saw an administrative professional in their team. How much better?
About additional 10 inches taller structures!
From Spaghetti to a Leadership Salute
All this could have started as a jest on spaghetti. One of my mentors words echo in my ears — “influence without authority” is the hallmark of great leaders. If that is the case, I salute all the administrative professionals, who go about their daily work life with humility as their armor. Many are oblivious to how much of value they bring to the table by making a world of difference on many things that meaningfully matter.
This past year, I saw a seasoned executive bring a thoughtful flower gift basket as an appreciation to a person who peripherally helps him. The genuine happiness on the face of the administrative professional spoke to me about this executive than many words about leadership have ever conveyed. Influence without authority works in both directions.
A simple, handwritten thank you note with specifics can work wonders. Let it glow and illuminate the faces around us — not just the corner office, but the most valuable person outside it.
Sometimes, the best gestures are hidden in plain sight. And somewhere along the way, you would be delighted to have spotted it.