Hackernoon logoTaste — telling good from bad on things that cannot be quantified by@karenkwanyu

Taste — telling good from bad on things that cannot be quantified

Karen Ho Hacker Noon profile picture

@karenkwanyuKaren Ho

Product Manager

It is an acquired skill

A Burst of Blue. Copyright SMG PhotoGallery.
Taste is the ability to tell good from bad, on things that cannot be quantified. 
It is the ability to turn unquantifiable phenomena into their absolute optimal state.

When numbers fail to guide us

We often rely on numbers to tell us if something is good or worthwhile. Prices. View counts. Hit rates.

If a bottle of wine is expensive it must be good. If a video gets 10 million views it’s certainly worth watching.

The problem is, over-reliant on quantitative measures flattens value. It’s lazy too — you are merely outsourcing decision making to others.

You need to get your sense of self back. To do this, you need to develop your own taste.

Developing taste

Taste is an innate sense that everyone is born with. In a way it is similar to physical abilities — as long as you were born healthy, you can run. You can also improve your ability to run by training your muscles.

Similarly, the amount of training you put in determines whether you have good taste or not. Developing good taste requires accumulating knowledge and switching between objectivity and subjectivity.

There are three steps to accumulating knowledge in taste development:

  1. Analyse the classic: a classic is ‘what this product should look like’. This is because, before the classic becomes a classic, it has been through countless iterations of improvements in order to arrive that ‘this is what this product should look like’. In other words, a classic is something that is thoroughly optimised to meet people’s expectations. The Levis 501 is a classic. It was designed over 120 years ago and is still popular today. People like them because the 501 is what jeans should look like.
  2. Understand current trends: trends are mostly temporary. These are attempts to create new classic by experimenting on existing classic. Understanding both classic and trends allow you to rapidly increases the breadth of your knowledge. One of the best ways to learn what’s trending is to read magazines. Browsing posts and videos on the internet or social media may be quicker, but it’s less effective because the information is not properly filtered. Contents on magazines are researched and curated. They help you quickly take the pulse of what’s trending in the particular industry. A trend could well become the new classic. Keep updating your understanding of what’s trending to develop taste.
  3. Identify patterns and rules: this steps requires you to distill 1) and 2) to make the knowledge your own. You need to understand rules and patterns that makes it tick. These form the logic behind why things are the way they are. For example, most popular antique shops feel slightly too crowded to give a sense of exclusive discovery. While big, bright shops give the impression that it’s more like a souvenir supermarket.

Because taste is built upon knowledge, you should always be able to explain with precision why certain things are the way they are. You should avoid using vague descriptions such as ‘cool’, ‘cute’ or ‘this feels better’. The reasoning behind what makes good taste could resonate with the audience’s subconscious understanding of the topic.

Recognise ‘the average’

One important consequence of accumulating knowledge is it lets you see what ‘average’ looks like. Here ‘average’ is not the opinion of the masses. It is not common sense neither.

To understand ‘average’, first you have to know the good and the bad. You can then recognise ‘average’ as the state in between.

Then you can create things that are better than average. Or way better than average. Average is the yardstick you use to create all levels of results.

In order to recognise average on things that are hard to quantify, we need to acquire knowledge as well as a wide range of methods of measure.

In fact, the more methods of measure we know, the better our taste become.

For example, a professional wine taster understands ‘average’ better than an amateur, because the professional possesses knowledge of wine in both depth and breadth. He/she also knows a large number of methods of measure upon which he/she uses to recognise the good and the bad.

Today we are surrounded by phenomena that are hard to quantify. Once we learned to recognise the average, we can then use it as yardstick and create various level of outputs.

Thanks for reading.


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