The Problem With Dunkin Donuts Iced Coffee

I haven’t eaten fudge in ages.

The last time I ate it, I made it myself, and for some reason (I claim due to a lack of proper mixing utensils) it came out slightly grainy, like the occasionally sugar-sludgy slurp of Dunkin Donuts Iced Coffee caused by their insistence on attempting to combine regular sugar (not even superfine) with a cold double-brewed coffee rather than using either a simple pre-made sugar syrup (like Starbucks, McDonalds, and most premium coffeshops) , or adding sugar to hot coffee first (ideally double-brewed, of course, to counteract the water added from the melting ice), and then icing it (like NYC street vendors and people playing along at home).

Both of these non-DD methods produce a much smoother beverage, one that tastes like it was conceived of as its own product - not a reworking of something designed for another purpose. It’s not that I don’t enjoy Dunkin Donuts Iced Coffee otherwise (I do - especially its price, though that is definitely challenged recently by [shudder] McDonalds’ entry into the market), it’s that it feels like it was added to their menu as an afterthought.

This afterthoughtedness isn’t exclusive to coffee. We see it everywhere - far too frequently in the tech world. In the rush to compete with a new product, companies add features to their existing offerings without much consideration, just so hey can promote it on the box. Over time (and sometimes immediately), their product becomes bloated and watered-down, full of features but devoid of character, of identity. It’s just like everything else, only not as good, because the other guys built their products from the ground up.

Apple is famous for doing it the right way. They released their first iPod into a market full of mp3 players - many of which offered more features (even to this day) - but they were enormously successful simply because they started from scratch, started with no preconceptions about what they were supposed to do, and instead made something that was a complete product with its own character, not just a box full of the latest, greatest gizmos and buzzwords borrowed from elsewhere in a scramble to have the manual with the most pages.

We see the same afterthoughtedness all the time on the Web, too. Sites adding widget after widget, the latest javascript library, the fanciest CSS hack, trying to be “MySpace - only better!” or “Like YouTube - but with a six-star rating system!” or “Like Digg - but, well...hmm...with fewer users!” Some of this can be excused - many blogs, for example, start with a template. Not everybody is a master coder, and this isn’t a prerequisite to starting a site. Most of the time, it is a learning experience for people just getting their feet wet with some HTML and CSS, and this exposure, this experimentation and risk-taking is a definite good thing. But the truly great sites, the truly great business, the folks who are actually successful, start pretty much from scratch.

One more example: In the arts, virtually no one begins with a truly blank canvas. There are numerous accepted conventions, numerous defaults - there is almost always an agreed-upon starting point. Some of the most innovative and successful work in history, however, has come from individuals who have questioned the very foundations of their practice. Painters who asked, “Why use paint? Why use brushes? Why canvas?,” directors who asked, “Why a stage? Why a curtain? Why plot? Why dialogue? Why indoors?,” poets who asked, “Why rhyme? Why words?” This is the same in science, too.

Questioning the default inevitably leads to insight. Sometimes it also leads to failure - but there is always something gained, something learned, always some greater truth revealed in the process.

Make the possibility of endless possibilities the only default. Set yourself free to redefine a product category. Become the default. Become the guy everyone copies. Ask why, and if you can’t figure out a really good reason - say no. Don’t settle for sludge in your coffee. Don’t try to trick people into eating your grainy fudge. You might be able to sell it to them once, but after that, you’ll be the one forced to eat it. And that’s just gross. Really.

Grainy fudge is really gross.