The "Milkshake Test"

Thursday, November 10, 2011

From the man who brought us the term "disruptive technology" comes another colorful term, the "milkshake test", which he uses as an aid to understanding how some new innovations succeed, while others fail. The term comes from a partially made-up example of a restaurant chain figuring out how to improve milkshake sales after first looking at why milk shakes were selling so well, often as whole orders) during the morning commute. Slate then goes on to consider several market hits and flops -- like "Second Life," its point of departure -- by considering what the milkshake example teaches us.

[W]hen you evaluate the next big thing, ask the [Clay] 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. [link dropped]
The flops show us that having an unclear mission -- or performing a clear mission poorly -- can doom a product. Nevertheless, "Christensen’s test calls correctly about a half-dozen of the big technology hype cycles of the last 20 years," making it fail as a predictive tool. One suspects that some innovation, entailing the satisfaction of a need customers don't know they have or don't think can be filled, will continue to fly under the radar of prognosticators every time.

-- CAV

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