Hot Chocolate

Nov 2013


“That was one of the saddest things about people–their wants and most important thoughts and feelings often went unspoken and barely understood.”

― Alexandra Adornetto, Halo


“The first rule of any technology is that automation applied to an efficient operation will magnify the efficiency. The second is that automation applied to an inefficient operation will magnify the inefficiency.”

– Bill Gates


The college where I live just installed a hot chocolate machine. It’s amazing. You place a glass under it then press a button and it’s done. 10 seconds and you have a hot chocolate.

The interesting part is before this nobody drank hot chocolate. Indeed most probably would say they didn’t even like them. There was a small kitchennette with hot chocolate making powder, a microwave and a machine to get milk and water from.

Nobody used it.

The added task of mixing was the difference. The hot chocolate isn’t even different. It’s the same mix, the same flavour, the same milk. When they had to mix it, nobody wanted it. Create a machine that mixes it for you and everybody does.

It’s interesting too because the hot chocolate machine also dispenses tea and coffee. But no-one seems to use them, very few do but by far most don’t. Nobody cares about tea and coffee, it’s all hot chocolate. You’d never have guessed that.

The demand speaks for itself. Now there are lines in front of the machine. Everyone wanted hot chocolate, they just didn’t want to go through the effort of making it themselves. They didn’t even realise they wanted it until it was easy to get.

It struck me as really beautiful.

That’s what technology does. It carves the shortest path between what a person wants and the delivery mechanism of that want. Even if they don’t realise they want it yet.

Human needs and desires are fairly predictable. So a way to create new technology is to take something people want or need and remove as much friction as possible to get it to them, quickly with as little effort on their part. Take out as many steps from A to B.

Rahul Ingles was the President of the college and the guy who championed the installation of the machines even though most people were openly against installing them. I asked him how he knew everyone would want this. He said it’s because he liked hot chocolate and was tired of making it himself. And figured there were probably other people like him. Amazing.