October 4, 2011

Searching for the Perfect Pepsi

I love Malcolm Gladwell. I was completely blown away by his book Outliers.  It was one of those books that changed my perspective; it started in motion a huge paradigm shift in how I view success.  Not long after, I searched his name on TED.  Recently, I had my high school ELA students watch his presentation: "Malcolm Gladwell on Spaghetti Sauce".  I was intrigued by what they came up with and inspired by the conversations it generated.

Analogies are very effective.  In his TED Talk Gladwell really uses one big analogy.  He talks about how Howard Markowitz totally revolutionized the food industry through statistical analysis.  More importantly, Markowitz looked beyond the numbers and tried to understand the "why" - something that Gladwell is very familiar with.  I love Markowitz's quote "there is no perfect Pepsi, only perfect Pepsis'!"  Howard's job was to sell products: actually, to help companies sell products by figuring out what people wanted.  He existed in a time when companies spent extensive hours collecting data about what variety of food/drink/whatever people liked best.  Markowitz started going about it differently - he grouped people together and created products based on groupings.  This was a sophisticated marketing move and Howard made many companies a lot of money.  Gladwell touches on Howard's work with spaghetti companies like Ragu and Prego.  Rather than make one spaghetti sauce that appealed to the highest number of consumers, Howard consulted his companies to make several different varieties (36 actually, in 6 varieties) to meet many consumers wants/needs.  Gladwell ties it all together and makes sure that his viewers/listeners understand his analogy: "in embracing the diversity of human beings we find true happiness."

I couldn't help but apply Markowitz and Gladwell's thoughts to the educations system.  Wouldn't it be wonderful if someone like Markowitz would come and revolutionize the Education System.  First, the system would be tailored to the needs of students - it would be built to meet the desires, wants, and needs of students.  Secondly, we would take into account the needs, wants, desires of groups of students.  Granted, we already do this to some extent, but not anywhere near how Howard recommended for the food industry.  After all, what's the payoff?  Prego made $600 million from Markowitz's suggestions of groupings and diversity.  But that's different - that's the corporate world.  Education is not the corporate world.  There is one teacher for every 17 students; we are very clear on the rules and where we stand on the possibility of embracing diversity.  Do what you can seems to be the message.  We understand the principles behind flexible grouping and tailored programming ; we understand the need for it; what we don't understand, is how to actually implement it effectively.  If, however, there was a possibility of making $600 million I am sure that we would find a way.  We need to make the conscious effort to invest in student's futures.  After all, the payoff is bigger than any monetary denomination: and if you don't agree with that then you are in the wrong profession.

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