Clay Christensen: Hi, my name's Clay Christensen. I'm a professor at the Harvard Business School.…..I brought with me a set of puzzles, all related to innovation.
We decided that the way we teach marketing is at the core of what makes motivation difficult to achieve. The most helpful way we've thought of it so far is that we actually hire products to do things for us, and understanding what job we have to do in our lives for which we would hire a product is really the key to cracking this problem of motivating customers to buy what we're offering.
So I want to just to tell you a story about a project we did for one of the big fast food restaurants. They were trying to goose up the sales of their milkshakes. They had just studied this problem up the kazoo. They brought in customers who fit the profile of the quintessential milkshake consumer, they'd give them samples and ask could you tell us how we could improve our milkshakes so you'd buy more of them? Do you want it chocolateier, cheaper, chunkier, chewier? They'd get very clear feedback. They would then improve the milkshake on those dimensions and it had no impact on sales or profits whatsoever.
So one of our colleagues went in with a different question on his mind, and that was I wonder what job arises in people's lives that cause them to come to this restaurant to hire a milkshake. So we stood in a restaurant for 18 hours one day and just took very careful data -- what time did they buy these milkshakes? What were they wearing? Were they alone? Did they buy other food with it? Did they eat it in the restaurant or drive off with it? It turned out that nearly half of the milkshakes were sold before 8 o'clock in the morning.
The people who bought them were always alone. It was the only thing they bought. And they all got in the car and drove off with it. So to figure out what job they were trying to hire it to do, we came back the next day and stood outside the restaurant so we could confront these folks as they left milkshake in hand. And in language that they could understand, we essentially asked, excuse me, please, but I've got to sort this puzzle out. What job were you trying to do for yourself that caused you to come here and hire that milkshake?
And they'd struggle to answer, so we'd then help them by asking other questions like, well, think about the last time you were in the same situation, needing to get the same job done, but you didn't come here to hire a milkshake, what did you hire? And then as we put all of their answers together, it became clear that they all had the same job to do in the morning. And that is they had a long and boring drive to work, and they just needed something to do while they drove to keep the commute interesting.
One hand had to be on the wheel, but somebody had given them another hand, and there wasn't anything in it. And they just needed something to do while they drove. They weren't hungry yet, but they knew they'd be hungry by 10 o'clock, so they also wanted something that would just p-p-p down there and stay for that morning. Good question. What do I hire when we do this job? You know, I've never framed the question that way before, but last Friday, I hired a banana to do the job. Take my word for it. Never hire bananas. They're gone in three minutes. You're hungry by 7:30.
If you promise not to tell my wife, I probably hire doughnuts twice a week, but they don't do it well either. They're gone fast, they crumb all over my clothes, they get my fingers gooey. Sometimes I hire bagels, but as you know, they're so dry and tasteless. Then I have to steer the car with my knees while I'm putting jam on them, and then if the phone rings, we've got a crisis. I remember I hired a Snickers bar once, but, ah, I felt so guilty, I've never hired Snickers again.
Uh, let me tell you, when I come here and hire this milkshake, it is so viscous that it easily takes me 20 minutes to suck it up that thin little straw. Who cares what the ingredients are, right? I don't. All I know is I'm full all morning, and it fits right here in my cup holder. Well, it turns out that the milkshake does the job better than any of the compet -- competitors, which in the customers' minds are not Burger King milkshakes, but it's bananas, doughnuts, bagels, Snickers bars, coffee, and so on.
Well, then in the afternoon and evening, it's hired for a fundamentally different job, primarily by fathers who have been saying no to their children all week long and they just have been looking for something innocuous to which they can say yes, so that they feel like kind and loving men. So I'm standing there with my son. I order my meal, and then he orders his meal, and then he looks up at me like only a son can look at a dad and he said, dad, can I have a milkshake, too?
And I put my hand on his shoulder and I say, sure, Spence, you can have a milkshake, because I want to feel like a kind man. And so you watch what happens there. It's eaten in the restaurant, with a meal, with other people. Dad finishes his meal, and then Spence finishes his meal, and then he picks up that viscous milkshake, and let me tell you, it takes the kid forever to suck it up that thin little straw. You know, and I hired it to be nice, and so I wait patiently for a while, and then I wait impatiently for a while.
And then, finally, say, look, Spence, we don't have all night, and so we throw it away half consumed. Then they invite me as a member of the demographic profile that has the proclivity to buy milkshakes, and they say, Clay, tell us how could we -- we could improve the milkshakes so you'd buy more of them? What am I going to tell them? Because I hire it for two fundamentally different jobs. And then they average my response with all the other 45- to 65-year-old male slobs with children, and they come up with a one-size-fits-none product that doesn't do well either of the jobs that I'm hiring it to do.
But I hope you can see how if you understand the job, how to improve the product becomes just obvious.
Clayton Christensen © 2010 All Rights Reserved.