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Clay Christensen, Milkshakes and Your Product

Does your product or service have a main job?

Most of us know why we’re doing what we’re doing, so this Harvard Business School article can seem like common sense that no one needs to hear. But what Clay Christensen is saying goes deeper than just knowing why we do what we do. I remember talking with him a couple years ago about this research and the most interesting aspect of the research was the ability to change the shake to make it do an even better job than it had been doing. Let’s back up. Let’s review the article’s essence.

What job is the milkshake doing?

A company wants to improve sales of milkshakes. They do what we all do – they ask customers about the aspects of the milkshake. Fail! Only after noticing that 40% of the milkshake orders are taken out of the restaurant do new questions appear – why? what for? to what end? And that’s when they find out the “job” that the shake is doing. It’s breakfast for commuters that have long drives, already are dressed for work, can’t get crumbs on their clothes, and need the sugar pickup (plus something to do on the drive).

So Christensen asks, “What job is your product doing?”  It’s the question we need to be asking ourselves all the time. If we’re just providing generic products or generic services with no point, then really, what’s the point?

The more important question is: What are you doing to do a better job?

But more importantly, it’s what they do after they get the answer that is most impressive in this story. By discovering the job the shake is doing, they are able to make the shake even better – and drive even more sales. If the shake needs to last a long commute, why not make it thicker? It’s a perfect idea but one that would never come from asking customers if the shake is sweet enough.

What questions are you asking?

So are you doing research to see how your product is delivering benefits and value? Once you know the job your product is doing, are you making the fit an even better one?  How can you tailor the job your product or service is doing so that it does it even better? How can you evaluate what you’re providing so that you can start asking smarter questions?

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