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Whatcha Gonna Do With That Duck?

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« "But what if it works?" | Main | "Yet" »

Lousy tomatoes and the rare search for wonder

My local supermarket stocks waxy, tasteless tomatoes from Chile and Mexico and Florida. They even do this in early September, when local tomatoes are delicious, plentiful and ought to be a bargain.

Are they clueless, evil or incompetent?

Perhaps none of these. This supermarket, like most supermarkets, is a checklist institution, one that is in the business of providing good enough, in quantity, at a price that's both cheap and profitable. You need a staple, they have it. They have flour and salt and eggs and macaroni and cheese. They've trained their customers to see them as an invisible vendor, as an organization that satisfices demand. It's too much work, too demanding and too risky to do the alternative...

They could program the store instead.

Program it the way a great theater programs the stage. No one goes to the theatre two or three times a week, expecting a good enough show. No, we only go when we hear there's something magical or terrific happening.

Over time, as institutions create habits and earn subscribers, they often switch, gradually making the move from magical (worth a trip, worth a conversation) to good (there when you need it). Most TV is just good. Magazines, too. When was the last time People magazine did something that made you sit up and say, "wow"? Of course, you could argue that they're not in the wow business, and you might be right.

One of the disrupting forces of the new media is that it makes harder and harder to succeed without wow. Since you have to earn the conversation regularly, phone it in too often and in fact, attention disappears.

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