Posts Tagged ‘clayton christensen’

Quote of the day: MILKSHAKES

May 13, 2012


One of the big fast-food chains was trying to beef up the sales of its milkshakes. These were sophisticated marketers. They had developed a profile of the quintessential milkshake customer – actually, I fit right in the mold. People like me gave them very clear feedback, and they would improve the milkshakes on those dimensions, but this had no impact whosoever on sales or profits.

We decided to try a different approach, which was to ask, “I wonder what job a customer is trying to do when he hires a milkshake?” We stood in one of their restaurants for eighteen hours one day and took very careful notes on what time each customer bought a milkshake, what was he wearing, was he alone or with other people, did he buy other food with it or just the milkshake, did he drink it in the restaurant or go off with it? It turned out that nearly half the milkshakes were sold in the very early morning. It was the only thing the person bought, and he was always alone. He always got in his car and drove off with it.

We came back the next day and confronted these people as they came out of the restaurant, surreptitiously holding their milkshakes. And we asked them, in language they could understand, “What job were you trying to do that caused you to hire that milkshake?” It turned out that they all had the same job: they had a long, boring drive to work, and they needed something to do while they were driving. One hand had to be on the wheel, but, jeez, somebody gave me another hand and there isn’t anything in it. And I’m not hungry yet but I know I’ll be hungry by ten o’clock. So what do I hire? If you promise not to tell my wife, I hire doughtnuts a lot, but they crumb all over my clothes and they’re gone too fast. I’ve hired bagels, but they’re dry and tasteless, so I have to steer the car with my knees while I put the jelly on, and if my phone rings I’m in big trouble. But, let me tell you, this milkshake is so viscous that it takes twenty-five minutes to suck it up that little straw. And you can turn it sideways and it doesn’t fall out!

Once you understood what job the customers were trying to get done, how to improve the product became clear: you make the milkshake even more viscous. You stir tiny chunks of fruit into it, not to be healthy, because they didn’t hire it to be healthy, but to make the commute more unpredictable – they’re driving along and – upp! – a lump of fruit. And you move the dispensing machine to the front of the counter and give people a prepaid swipe card so they can just gas up and go.

— Clayton Christensen, author of The Innovator’s Dilemma, interviewed in the New Yorker

In this week’s New Yorker

May 13, 2012

The “Innovators” issue contains any number of astonishing sentences, including this one, from Michael Specter’s “The Climate Fixers,” about geoengineers laboring to find drastic solutions to global warming:

“The Stratospheric Particle Injection for Climate Engineering project, or SPICE, is a British academic consortium that seeks to mimic the actions of volcanoes like Pinatubo by pumping particles of sulfur dioxide, or similar reflective chemicals, into the stratosphere through a twelve-mile-long pipe held aloft by a balloon at one end and tethered, at the other, to a boat anchored at sea.”

From the same article: “In 2008 Chinese soldiers fired more than a thousand rockets filled with chemicals at clouds over Beijing to prevent them from raining on the Olympics.”

And Joan Acocella’s essay about English usage manuals and the battle between prescriptivists and descriptivists offers this summary of Ruth Wajnryb’s 2005 book Expletive Deleted:

“Arabic and Turkish, she says, are justly praised for elaborate, almost surrealist curses (‘You father of sixty dogs’). Bosnians focus on the family (‘May your mother fart at a school meeting’). Wajnryb gives generous treatment to the populations, such as the Scots and the African-Americans, who hold actual competitions of verbal abuse, and she offers memorable examples:

I hate to talk about your mother, she’s a good old soul,
She got a ten-ton pussy and a rubber asshole.

In addition to these, other excellent pieces include Evan Osnos’s “The Love Business,” about Gong Haiyan, who created the most successful online dating website for Chinese match-seekers, and an extremely illuminating and well-written profile by Larissa MacFarquhar of Clayton Christensen, who wrote a classic book called The Innovator’s Dilemma. Christensen has applied a huge amount of research and thinking to the subject of why and how successful businesses can and almost inevitably do fail. He’s an incredibly smart who is also a devout member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints who fervently prayed to God to tell him whether the Book of Mormon was true, which He did. Go figure.

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