DO MUMMYJIS really hold the power in household kitchens? How do factors of age, size and eyesight matter when it comes to choosing breakfast serials in India? Do Britons have an inbuilt superiority complex?
These are the type of questions that Martin Lindstrom, a Scandinavian type of Sherlock Homes, answers as he spends his life travelling the world, making observations of other cultures by talking to people, gaining access to their homes and online habits.
Lindstrom is the author of a recently published book called Small Data, The Tiny Clues that Uncover Huge Trends. A central premise of the book is how small data or finding out the little things that give us away can provide valuable insights into our habits, desires and motivations.
Working as a leading brand consultant,Lindstrom has advised the likes of Pepsi, Microsoft, Walt Disney, McDonalds and Reebok.
On one occasion this led him to Mumbai, where a cereal brand was looking to address its declining sales.
Lindstrom started by seeking to answer the question of whether it was the mother-in-law or the daughter-in-law who ran most Indian households.
Traditionally this mother/daughter inlaw relationship has a reputation of being typically fraught where the older woman was thought to rule the roost.
However, while Lindstrom spoke to the mothers-in-law and his assistant questioned the daughters-in-law, both women stated that they were in charge of the kitchen. So who was right?
In his detective, snooping mode, Lindstrom found a few clues. The first thing he noticed was that spices in the kitchen were usually in the same order – with the brightest and most colourful
nearest the stove. He later correlated bright colours worn by the mother in law with similar colours that their bedrooms were decorated in. This made him realise the powerful connection mother-in-laws had with bright colours.
He also noticed a floral smell in kitchens he spent time in; this was the perfume worn by the daughter-in-law’s. This drew Lindstrom to the conclusion that neither was in charge of the home and generally speaking “Indian mothers-in-law were in charge of cooking, while their daughters-in-law were in charge of tidying up and dishwashing.” Lindstrom also noticed that typically mothers-in-law’s were shorter than their daughters-in-law and had poorer eye sight. Walking into a store with glasses that duplicated the mothers-inlaw’s weakening vision and with shoulders haunched, he noticed “how unfamiliar the universe was from the perspective of an older Indian female”.
From this perspective, he found “almost everything had blurred edges and lines, and the only thing you could really make out were colours”.
Added to this research, he had identified that mothers-in-law’s were more likely to associate fresh with bright colours such as orange and purple, while daughter-in-law’s would link fresh and
natural with earthy colours such as greens and browns, which coincided with lighter colours their children’s rooms were painted in.
As a result, Lindstrom came up with the idea that cereal packaging should be bright at the bottom to appeal and attract mothers-in-law’s between the ages of 50 to 70, and with lighter colours at
the top to catch the eye of younger daughters-in-law’s in their twenties.
Lindstrom revealed some of his trade secrets at a London hotel before he jetted off to another country (he travels 300 days of the year and has visited 77 countries and 2,000 homes all around
How did the book came about? “The story was in Zambia four years ago, catching up with Malcolm [Gladwell] (author of best-selling books The Tipping Point and Outliers). I had a couple of hypotheses and our conversation resulted in inspiration for the book.
“The starting point of the book is we are not present at all, people are on their phones, doing something. When a person is late, we are (looking at our phones) and not looking like a loser.
“We are petrified of being alone, by ourselves. The latest figures are that people are checking their phones 182 times a day and 50 minutes on average
on Facebook,” said Lindstrom.
What has Lindstrom noticed about British people? “British people have two languages in many ways. Of course there is self irony, but there is also a different layer that says we are a little bit
better than most people. It comes across in a very subtle, very indirect way; you’d never see that India, Australia or Denmark, for example. Perhaps because of the history, the language or the Queen,” he said.
Small Data has observations backed up by personal interviews about people and culture in a number of other countries. There are some intriguing conclusions drawn; for example, the world many women living in Russia have to navigate in with implications for their motivations that challenge typical notions.
Typically received wisdom says you have to be part of a culture to know how it and its people are. Lindstrom challenges that notion, arguing people living in a certain place will sometimes have “culture blinds” that prevents them from picking up on things that outsiders can.
It’s not surprising Lindstrom was aided by Gladwell in coming up with Small Data as there are aspects of Gladwell’s winning formula in the book. Ultimately this is a desire to dig deeper into reasons for things and people’s actions which challenge our preconceptions.