July 07, 2017

Horse 2295 - Please Ignore The Label

Earlier in the week I was in a meeting and acting as the minute taker, and at around about the half way point when our minds were all wandering off to play in the long paddock, someone thought​ that it would be nice if they got us coffee. In the list of orders of cappuccino, latte and one hot chocolate, mine was the only long black and so I was asked what I thought of the coffee, seeing as I was the only one who tasted it unadulterated; to which I replied that it wasn't really that great. The chap then admitted that he'd never had the coffee from that place just on its own and that he'd always ordered it with syrup or dusted with chocolate in a cappuccino.
Apparently this coffee was supposed to be from a label of some glory and fame, it was a single estate coffee which had been grown on one side of the hill, and had won some medal at a coffee trade show or some such (which kind of makes me wonder why you'd want to add syrup to it at all). For all of the tickets that it had on itself and that other people had put on it, it was basically no more than warm brown liquid in a cup. Maybe if it was freshly drawn through the bucket of the espresso machine it would have developed a crema or perhaps the volatile hydrocarbons wouldn't have settled but as far as I was concerned, I was disappointed.
The meeting rolled on beyond lunch and I went to the bank and the post office and my boss thought that he'd one up this chap by getting us all another coffee from a different place. This time it had come from a place of not much note at all and wasn't boasting about the medals that it hadn't won. What was it like? That was the question that was on everyone's mind and suddenly I became the subject of much curiosity with several men in suits staring at me. What was it like? It was roasted nicely, with a wee hint of smokiness to it; and it had a flavour that was like a rugby team of angels had all decided to run across your tongue before it fizzled and disappeared. You kind of get a similar sensation if you put Dr Pepper in the microwave. My boss mentioned that getting coffee from this place was like a crapshoot because you either got something amazing or something that was complete and utter dross.

The point of this story is that yet again, it's being proved to me that the enemy of the brilliant is a label. Just because something has a fancy label is no guarantee that you're going to find that little spark of brilliance. This has been confirmed in my mind by the pages of the Sydney Morning Herald when it placed an $8 bottle of wine from Aldi ahead of many labels which have a famous name. In some cases, a bottle of Vino​ di Plonki might very well be more wonderful than a bottle of Chateaux De Fou Fou. I've driven quite a number of BMWs over the years and while they're all very smooth, my little Ford Ka was more fun than all of them and so is the Mazda 2 that I have now. I've seen my boss go through several IPhones but his Kindle is still singing along as sweetly as the day it left the factory.
Don't even get me started on the phenomenon of shops near where I work that sell burgers for a price beginning with a 2; when we know that some of the best burgers come from independent fish and chip shops where the person behind the counter is someone who is wizened through years of practice. In my general experience, the words "gourmet" and "artisanal" placed as a description of a product are indicators of only one thing; that the thing is overrated and overpriced.
Granted that some things earn a reputation by being very very good for a very long time but the reason for that is that in general, they've found their little patch of brilliance and haven't fiddled with it. In those cases, it wasn't the existence of a famous label which built the reputation but the building of the reputation which lends credence to the label.

More poignantly though, the reputations of who are and aren't popular, who are and aren't charismatic, and who are and aren't seemingly important, is actually almost entirely irrelevant. If you are at a party and there are lots of people, then it is often the quiet ones in the corner who are the most interesting. You might find yourself having to draw them out from their shell but you might end up finding someone who is just quietly brilliant. In organisations of more than a dozen people, it is often the quiet ones who do the most important work but recieve almost no adulation for it.
There isn't some magical guarantee that the person who is labelled as some dynamic speaker isn't a total berk and prat. The title of Sir or Doctor is also no guarantee that the person is necessarily kind, noble or friendly either.
I think that we also have a tendency to dismiss people more easily than we should as well. Now that I completely understand that there will be people who rub us the wrong way and there will be those who we just don't get along with (as well as some people who are just outright toxic, offensive or otherwise) and there are people in the world who for whatever reason, everyone else has determined require an extra degree of patience and grace to deal but to perpetuate this serves highlight our own flaws.

The whole reason why labels are worth anything at all is because they are the marker of past quality. As with so many things, past results are not necessarily indicative of future performance and just because you slap a label on something doesn't necessarily make it good.

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