Got a Tech Hunch? Use 'Milkshake Test'

Thought exercise helps predict a new technology's popularity
By Matt Cantor,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 8, 2011 7:00 PM CST
Why the Hype Was Wrong About Second Life and Right About Google
The iPod has been a great employee.   (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson, file)

Five years ago, everyone was ready for a Second Life revolution—but the virtual world has largely fizzled. Google and iPods, on the other hand, have lived up to the hype. How do we know when to believe in lofty tech expectations? At Slate, Dan and Chip Heath propose a thought experiment adapted from writer Clay Christensen. Pretend marketers learn that milkshakes sell best to early-morning commuters. The commuters are, in effect, hiring those shakes to do a specific job—providing a quick and easy breakfast.

In order to sell more milkshakes, then, marketers don't need to worry about things like improving flavor. They might instead speed up service, anything to make a shake be a more "useful 'employee,'" they write. "So when you evaluate the next big thing, ask the Christensen question: What job is it designed to do?" We hired Google for great searches and iPods for portable music. But Second Life “was like a job candidate with a fascinating résumé—fluent in Finnish, with stints in spelunking and trapeze—but no actual labor skills,” the Heaths write. Click through for the full article. (More Second Life stories.)

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