What Spaghetti Sauce Can Teach Us about Hiring

Once upon a time (the 70s and 80s) there was very little variety on supermarket shelves.

For the most part there was just one type of ketchup, one type of mustard, one type of spaghetti sauce.


Food manufacturers had been collecting lots of data.

They conducted surveys, focus groups, and taste tests.

Their results at the time didn’t seem to suggest that people would prefer different varieties—much less that they would be willing to spend so much more on them.


What happened?



Now we have tons of variety. And we can largely credit this dramatic shift to Howard Moskowitz, a brilliant psychologist with a PhD from Harvard, who went into the science of food optimization.


Food optimization is the search for The Perfect Recipe.

The one combination of ingredients that keeps people coming back for more.

You can test this by creating many different versions of a product with many different combinations of ingredients. Give these to people, and you will see which one is the best.


There is no such thing as The Perfect Recipe.

When Moskowitz really crunched the data, there was no Perfect Recipe to be found.


You can find a single product that everyone will like to some extent.

But it probably won’t be something that anyone will love.


Ask the wrong questions, and you get the wrong answer.


Spaghetti sauce

Moskowitz is best known for spaghetti sauce.

His data analysis showed that there were several combinations that some people really liked.


For example, some people like it spicy.

These people tended to enjoy all the spicy varieties a bit more.


Most famously, he found that many people like chunky spaghetti sauce. And they like it a lot.

This wasn’t a common result in the surveys and focus groups—there weren’t massive numbers of people demanding chunky sauce if you ask them what they want.

And there wasn’t a chunky spaghetti sauce on most store shelves at the time.


This was a huge missed opportunity.


Chunky spaghetti sauce—once it was actually on store shelves—sold extremely well.

We’re talking about hundreds of millions of dollars.

Food manufacturers learned their lesson about searching for one single Perfect Recipe.


What we can learn about hiring

When it comes to hiring, this insight hasn’t really caught on yet.

People still search for The Ideal Employee.


We tend to assume that there is one specific type of person that will be best at a given job.

But, much like with food optimization, the data show us that this isn’t true.


There can be many types of good employee. There is more than one potential path to success. 

Focus on hiring just one variety of Ideal Employee, and you won’t be considering any of the other options.


This is a huge missed opportunity.


Next-generation talent analytics can expand your hiring options. And using them is easier than ever before.

It isn’t the 80s anymore. Do you really want the same old spaghetti sauce every time?



Image credits: vasso miliou, U.S. Department of Agriculture

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