Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Milkshake Test

The Heath brothers, authors of the best-selling book Made to Stick, have now published a new book: The Myth of the Garage and Other Minor Surprises.  Slate published an excerpt this week, in which they describe a simple test devised by Clay Christensen to evaluate potentially over-hyped new technologies.Christensen calls it the "milkshake test."   Here is a portion of the Heath brothers' article:

Christensen asks us to imagine a group of marketers at a fast-food restaurant who want to sell more shakes. As they comb the customer data for insight, they discover something interesting: Most milkshakes are sold to early-morning commuters who buy a single milkshake and nothing else. Why milkshakes? These commuters, according to Christensen, are “hiring” milkshakes to do a job for them: to supply a breakfast that is filling and nonmessy and cupholder-compatible. So when you evaluate the next big thing, ask the Christensen question: What job is it designed to do? Most successful innovations perform a clear duty. When we craved on-the-go access to our music collections, we hired the iPod. When we needed quick and effective searches, we hired Google. And looking ahead, it’s easy to see the job that Square will perform: giving people an easy, inexpensive way to collect money in the offline world.

The Heath brothers admit that the test is NOT a perfect predictor of which new technologies will thrive and which will turn out to be busts.  It is helpful though.  The "milkshake test" reminds us to focus on what function the product serves for the customer.  Moreover, it reminds us that the same product can do different jobs in different situations.  For instance, a Starbucks coffee at 6:00am does a very different "job" for the consumer than a coffee at 4pm in the afternoon. 

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