Since mankind had its first thought, we’ve been trying to figure out ways to live longer, live healthier, and work less, so that we can spend more of our time doing whatever we choose to do (for better or for worse). Over the past hundred years in the United States we’ve managed to extend our average life expectancy from 46 to 79, we’ve discovered countless vaccines and medicines that allow us to live longer and virtually pain free, and invented computer driven machines that have greatly increased our ability to complete tasks large and small more quickly, more cheaply, and more accurately. The greatest innovations in history are the ones that reclaim the most time for humanity. Some great examples would include indoor lighting, the airplane, and, of course, the internet. All of this, and Einstein’s work, leads me to fantasize that the ultimate innovation would be time travel. I know we’re a ways from achieving that lofty goal, but time travel has become a useful metaphor for me when evaluating innovations in my work. Let me explain. At my innovation consulting firm, AfterViolet, we are tasked by our clients to create innovative products (this includes services and experiences) for consumers. As part of our innovation process concepts must pass the “Time Test,” which determines whether or not the concept impacts time in a way that benefits the end user. A concept can only move forward if it passes the test. I developed the test as a result of a pattern of insights I’ve had working in a variety of industries over the course of my career. The “Time Test” is not very complicated, but it does require some explanation. The underlying premise is that time is our most valuable and coveted asset (see Graph1). Hopefully, at the end of this article you’ll agree that innovation is about time.

Graph 1

Let’s start by thinking about time as duration of time. In order to challenge a product that is an established leader in the marketplace, the challenging product must improve the time duration benefit according to consumer preferences. An actual time duration benefit is easy to show by simply taking measurements with a stopwatch. On the other hand, perceived time duration can not be measured with a watch, it must be tested qualitatively. Below is “Graph 2” to help explain the relationship between perceived time duration and the discomfort/pleasure continuum.


Here are the 5 ways a product can effect time in a way that is beneficial to consumers:

When it comes to products that help us complete a task:
1. Decrease the actual duration of time that is required for a task be done.
– A microwave oven
– A clothing dryer
– An airplane
2. Decrease the perceived duration of time that is required for a task to be done. Think of this as making the task more comfortable or less physically taxing.
– Perfume scented, moisturizing, dish washing liquid
– The latest exercise machine on QVC
– Beats Head Phones

When it comes to products that are for leisure or pleasure:
3. Increase the actual duration of time that pleasure is experienced.
– Viagra
– Lollipops
– Vibram shoe soles
4. Increase the perceived duration of time that pleasure is experienced. Think of this as making the consumer feel pleasure by instantly creating a desired ongoing identity either to please themselves.
– A Jeep Wrangler
– Lululemon clothes
– Instagram etc.
5. Suspend the awareness of time passing.
– A Blockbuster Movie (Forest Gump)
– Immersive Video Games (Halo)
– General Anesthesia (Complete memory loss during an operation)

Time Eye

An example with explanation for each category listed above:

Decrease the actual duration: A microwave decreases the duration of time it takes to cook food compared to an oven. We have microwaves specifically to save time both in the cooking and cleaning phases of the cooking process.

Decrease the perceived duration: Consumers buy Beats headphones as a status indicator. Because they are over-the-top conspicuous, and send the instantaneous message “I have Beats headphones, therefore I am cool,” it saves the customers time in having to tell anyone or do anything to actually be “cool.” Beats headphones are rated by various independent groups to have the worst sound quality among headphones in their price range.

Increase the actual duration: Viagra… well, you know.

Increase the perceived duration: A sports utility vehicle, like a Jeep, gives me the feeling that I’m adventurous without having to ever take it off-road. How many people do you know who have an SUV and actually take it on the epic adventures we see in car commercials?

Suspend the awareness of time passing: A great movie, like Forest Gump, transports us to another world to the degree that we completely forget about our own world for a few hours. I think it’s the closest thing to what time travel might actually feel like.

For clarity here are some attributes and how they effect time literally and or perceptually:

Cheaper: I have to spend less time working for the money to pay for the goods, and my current money will last longer.

Convenient: It literally saves me time and spares me some discomfort. Remember, discomfort slows down perception of time passing.

Reliable: It’s durable and will not break easily, preventing me from spending more of my time and money to get the item fixed or replace it.

Entertaining: It transports me to another world.

Faster: Literally saves time.


How mass consumers think about money and time:

– How long does it take me to make money. For example, I make $30/hour, so I’d have to work and save for a year in order to afford this new $5,000 television.

– How long will my money reserves last given my expenses. For example, I have eight months of expenses saved, but only really need six. So, I feel comfortable spending the extra amount.

How billionaire consumers think about money and time:

– I have more money than I’ll ever spend, so I’m willing to pay significantly more money for any incremental units of time I can reclaim. For example, my physical trainer comes to my house, because it would take me a half hour to get to his gym. It’s cost me an extra $150/hour, but it’s worth the time I reclaim without any hesitation.

– My wealth allows me to maximize my freedom and live as I choose.

Wealthy people who have more than enough money will happily pay a premium for products in order to save time. The main benefit to being a billionaire would be that they have the opportunity to maximize literal and perceived time. Below is a simple chart that shows the wealthier your are the more of a premium you’re willing to pay to reclaim time.

Graph 3

So to conclude this brief article, the “Time Test” says that “Unless a product (service, or experience) more positively impacts time duration benefit than a product that already exists in the marketplace, it is not an innovation and will, therefore, have a greater likelihood of failure.” The test has proved invaluable in assessing concepts at the early stages of development, saving a considerable amount of time and money. I guess it’s fair to say the “Time Test” passes the “Time Test.” Sorry, I had to say it. I hope you’ve found this brief explanation helpful and I welcome any questions or comments.