For our Foodie Friday Fun this week, I want to talk about MSG. No, not the World’s Most Famous Arena, Madison Square Garden, but the stuff many people ask not be added to their food in Chinese restaurants. MSG is Monosodium Glutamate and the reason many folks avoid it is something called Chinese Food Syndrome. You may know someone who believes it affects them when they eat MSG. They tell you that they get flushed, they develop a headache, they might even experience numbness.
All of these symptoms were reported in a letter to the editor of the New England Journal of Medicine. A doctor noticed his friends had complained of similar symptoms after going for Chinese food – flushing, headaches, and numbness. Over the years, his letter turned into reports of a big study that demonstrated how MSG caused these effects and so people avoid it. Here’s the problem: scientists have been unable to replicate any of these physical manifestations in tests. Chinese Food Syndrome has never been demonstrated under rigorously controlled conditions, even in studies with people who were convinced that they were sensitive to the compound. People hear the myth and don’t want to take the chance they will be similarly affected.
It’s not really surprising. MSG is a substance that naturally occurs in tomatoes, Parmesan cheese, and aged steaks among other foods and people who avoid it in Chinese food probably eat it like crazy all the time. Yet the myth goes on and people ask that it be left out of their food. Which is, of course, the business point.
Many businesses labor under the burden of myth. These myths generally surface when someone, probably a new employee, asks about a business practice they’ve encountered elsewhere or a missed opportunity they’ve figured out. They’re often told some myth at that point about why the business just can’t go in that direction which is not based on fact but on some urban legend.
Maybe it’s the myth about “we don’t need to hire an expert to do social media – it’s free and everyone here uses it.” Then there’s the one I get told to me a lot: you don’t need to get paid to consult for start-ups since taking equity will be worth a lot more. Or maybe it’s the one about how working for yourself solves all your business problems…
What myths go on in your business or in your office? What “truths” are told without being based in fact? Just as MSG makes food taste better, whether it’s natural or added, adding facts to your business life makes it a lot more palatable as well.