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The Job of a Milkshake

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Clayton M. Christensen, a Professor of Business Administration at the Harvard Business School, has suggested that all things, even products, have a job to do.

Christensen tells the story of a fast food company who wanted to increase milkshake sales. This company conducted focus groups, collected data and made changes to the milkshake based on that data—but sales remained flat. What seemed like a relatively straightforward goal proved difficult to achieve.

The first thing he observed was that nearly half of the milkshake sales were made before 8:30 a.m. Next, he noticed that these morning milkshakes were the only item these people purchased, the people were always alone and they always got in their car and drove off with it.

The following day, he returned to the restaurant, interviewed the morning milkshake buyers and asked them the same question he’d asked himself:

What job did you hire this milkshake to do?

Confused at first, the customers weren’t sure how to respond. But upon further explanation of the question, they revealed a number of interesting insights about their milkshake purchase:

  • They were looking for something that could keep them company during their long commute to work.
  • They wanted something that was easy to consume, could rest easily in the cup holder and be held in one hand.
  • They wanted a little something that would hold them over until lunch without having to have a full meal.

The milkshake, it seems, performed these job functions better than its competitors (e.g. the banana, the bagel, the doughnut).

The fast food company took this information and made changes they hadn’t thought to do before. They made a morning milkshake that was thicker so it would last longer and included chunks of fruit to make it more interesting. By recognizing the jobs of the milkshake and adjusting their product according to those jobs, they increased sales seven-fold.

Fully understanding a function or a job may seem trivial, but it can mean the difference between success and failure. At J2 our job is to build trusted relationships, provide thought-provoking expertise and deliver exceptional service. We aim to do this for our associates, clients and vendor partners.

Like the milkshake, many of us play several roles. Over the course of my workday, I play the role of an entrepreneur, a leader, a manager, a mentor, a friend and a confidant—and they all have their own place and time. The trick is playing the right role at the right time. Do you know your role?

“Sometimes you can have the smallest role in the smallest production and still have a big impact.” -Neil Patrick Harris

Have a great weekend.