Thursday, May 27, 2010

Malcolm Gladwell on spaghetti sauce

This is one of the most popular speeches from

It's a bit lengthy, but I love its messages and I've made what I perceive as the two key points my own:

1. There is no best spaghetti sauce; there are best spaghetti sauces

This is the story of how Dr. Moscowitz arrived at the notion that a single platonic form is not always applicable in real life -- moving the focus from universals to variability is valid.

2. People know what they like but they cannot tell you

It used to be that the best way to find out what spaghetti sauce appealed to people was to ask them, "What do you like in a spaghetti sauce?" But what we learned from #1 is that people will tell you very similar things but when given sauce to test-taste, they choose very differently. People know what they like, but they cannot (or will not) articulate it (or admit to it).

What this means to me is:

There isn't a single enterprise-calibre solution that is all things to everyone. We know this intellectually, but we may not feel supported in saying so. Now we can. This frees us up to allow for multiple solutions. Redundancy is a bad thing in the IT world, but now, overlap is NOT such a bad thing.

Allowing users to work their own way is to be encouraged. Software like Lotus Notes, that supports half a dozen ways to accomplish the same task, are to be congratulated for their foresightfulness, rather than criticized for being too complex. People will find the method that works best for them and stick with it. And that method IS the best one for them. Because they've chosen it!

Trying to get business requirements out of users is a losing proposition. We're barking up a tree that doesn't exist. They can't tell us what they want in a spaghetti sauce - they just can't. But they recognize it when they see it. So providing a few different recipes or solutions and letting users test drive them (and watch the rate of adoption) is a reasonable way of identifying useful solutions to support more fully or integrate or customize -- whatever it is you're looking for.

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