Platonic Pepsi and the plural nature of perfection.

April 3, 2018

Have you ever wondered "Am I doing this the right way?"

 

It's a frequent question during the process of acquiring a new skill. But it can be a troublesome one because it's based on the premise that there actually is one right way.

 

If there was only one right way to do things our supermarket shelves (to say the least) would have a lot less variety.

 

Some of that variety is due to a New Yorker called Howard Moskowitz.

Moskowitz set up shop in the seventies, and one of his first clients was Pepsi. The artificial sweetener aspartame had just become available, and Pepsi wanted Moskowitz to figure out the perfect amount of sweetener for a can of Diet Pepsi.

 

Pepsi knew that anything below 8 percent sweetness was not sweet enough and that anything over 12 percent was too sweet.

 

So Moskowitz did the logical thing. He made up experimental batches of Diet Pepsi with every conceivable degree of sweetness - 8 percent, 8.25 percent, 8.5 and so on up to 12- gave them to hundreds of people, and looked for the concentration that people liked the most.

 

But the data were a mess - there wasn't a pattern - and one day, sitting in a diner, Moskowitz realised why.

 

They had been asking the wrong question. There was no such thing as the perfect Diet Pepsi.

 

They should have been looking for the perfect Diet Pepsis.

 

It took a long time for the food world to catch up with Howard Moskowitz. He knocked on doors and tried to explain his idea about the plural nature of perfection, and no one answered.

 

The plural nature of perfection stands opposed to the Platonic concept of THE ideal. It suggests instead that there is a small buffet of perfect ways of doing the same thing.

"Am I doing this the right way?"

"You probably are, but have you checked out these other right ways of doing it!"

The food world did catch up with Howard Moskowitz eventually. But that's a story for another blog; one about 'extra-chunky Alexander Technique'.

 

 

 

Extract from 'The Ketchup Conundrum' in Malcolm Gladwell's 'What the dog saw' 2009

 

 

 

 

 

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