Happy Trail Mix to You
The trail mix needed goat cheese. As I was driving and sneaking handfuls to curb my hunger, I was hit by this distinct desire. Never mind that goat cheese doesn’t exist naturally in easy-to-grab chunks. I wanted it.
I realize lots of people hate goat cheese, but I’ve acquired the taste for it, especially in certain combinations. On that particular car ride, I was tasting something that wasn’t there. Something that I knew would’ve hit the spot for me.
I think of this phenomenon as the “Phantom Taste Ability.”
This is the skill to sense beneficial things that are missing, which is useful in everything from cooking to writing to business to parenthood.
Chefs on Chopped display their Phantom Taste dramatically whenever they undertake a “mystery ingredient” challenge. By quickly determining which seasonings and other food combinations are “missing,” they whip together something edible and perhaps delicious from the unknown.
Concierges flex their Phantom Taste when they anticipate your needs before you’ve expressed them, and the exceptional hosts perform well beyond the level of mere needs.
Disney has perfected the Phantom Taste Ability. The booking agent seems to be making small talk when she asks, “Are you coming here to celebrate a special occasion?” Weeks or months go by, and upon your arrival you wonder how the resort thought to include Cinderella buttons that wish you a “Happily Ever After!” in your check-in package.
Interior designers make their living almost entirely from seeing what isn’t there, and homemakers use this special sense to establish new family traditions.
This ability does not usually exist independently, however. It results from a wide range of prior experiences, and it requires a knowledge of your niche, whether that is food judges, vacationers and honeymooners, homeowners, or your family.
The Fix Sense
Some companies spend millions on market research to determine what is missing, while others seem to have the intuition to fill a gap in the world before the world knows it exists.
The iPhone’s introduction showed us how the world could be and proceeded to shape it that way for better or worse.
Likewise, it was doubtful for a time that anyone needed a tablet computer until the iPad showed them they did.
During the height of Apple’s innovative influence, they proved they knew their market – perhaps better than customers knew themselves – and they had the prerequisite experience thanks to their work in personal computing, the graphical user interface (thanks, Xerox), and the iPod, all of which entailed decades of countless smaller projects.
To serve well and develop a taste for what isn’t there, you must have a broad range of experiences, and you must know those whom you serve.You must learn to put yourself in others’ shoes, purposely imagining that you are them.
If you don’t have years to invest, reading can be an immense help toward these ends. The existence of books and the internet shrinks the list of excuses like salt on a slug.
In a far more useless demonstration than Apple’s, my goat cheese craving signified ample experience with unhealthy salads involving Craisins and feta as well as deep knowledge of the target audience – me.
But the Phantom Taste Ability is only valuable when it precedes the fulfillment of a need. Despite daydreaming about a dairy product my sister insists tastes like a barn itself, I never executed my vision.
Perhaps the cheese can be encased in a candy shell to make less of a mess. Goat Cheese M&M’s® – “Melts in your mouth, not in your hand.” I’m sure someone will figure it out.
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If you enjoyed this, you might like this past Monday’s post because you tend to scare yourself.