This blog first appeared as Dave Farber's piece for Medium
By Dave Farber
On two recent occasions, we’ve heard about tech-savvy companies solving common problems with one of the least innovative products we can think of — socks. Kind of fancy socks, but socks nonetheless. Oddly enough, that pretty quickly made a lot of sense. That’s because innovation isn’t really about solving complex challenges, developing fancy technology, or even having that phantom “Eureka!” moment. Companies that develop breakthrough new products do so by responding to newly relevant customer needs. More specifically, they find ways to address under-satisfied jobs that customers are trying to get done in their lives, or they alleviate the pain points that stand in the way of getting those jobs done. To better understand how a Jobs to be Done mentality can help break down problems until the right solution seems obvious, we’ll look at how two companies — Yondr and Netflix — have started addressing real customer needs using little more than some socks.
We’ll start by looking at Yondr, a company that satisfies two different types of jobs — functional and emotional — that have become increasingly relevant in recent years. Yondr essentially makes socks for smartphones. Once individuals put their phones in the socks, the socks lock and prevent those individuals from using their phones until they step outside of a defined geographical area. On the functional side, Yondr is helping venue owners and performers combat the problems that have developed as phones have become more advanced. Concert venues and comedy clubs, for example, now have a way to prevent attendees from capturing and posting images and videos of their events — an issue that has become increasingly problematic as phones with high-quality cameras have become ubiquitous. Similarly, testing centers can have students put their phones in these socks before taking tests, preventing them from accessing the Internet or copying testing materials. On the emotional job side, Yondr’s socks also give individuals a way to more fully experience the events they’re at by taking away the temptation to view the event through the screen of a phone or to rely on their phones as a social crutch rather than interacting with other attendees.
Although Yondr’s “socks with locks” may seem like a particularly clever idea, finding the need for such a solution is actually quite intuitive. It simply involves giving some thought to how the world is evolving, finding those jobs that are either new or more important than they once were, and learning where customers struggle to get those jobs done to their satisfaction. In this case, cell phones have become both more widespread and more powerful. Instead of thinking about how to incrementally improve phones and add more functionality, Yondr looked at a broader set of stakeholders to understand what jobs they were trying to get done — and where they were struggling — in this new smartphone-first era. It quickly became clear that among other needs, there were under-satisfied jobs related to protecting IP rights and sensitive content. Framed in that light, a simple sock with a locking mechanism provided a fairly obvious solution.
While Yondr is still a pretty new company, Netflix is a bit more established. Its innovation achievements — from fundamentally altering the way videos are rented to becoming a data-driven producer of original content — are widely recognized. Yet one of the company’s lesser known creations, Netflix Socks, is perhaps most illustrative of its dedication to customer centricity. As Netflix and others have reshaped the industry, the resulting changes in how individuals consume media content have caused new pain points to appear. In particular, one of the pain points Netflix wanted to respond to involves viewers falling asleep while binge-watching a TV series. As Netflix noticed, viewers would often fall asleep during an episode, only to wake up several episodes later bombarded by spoilers and struggling to remember where they actually left off.
Netflix Socks track when you fall asleep, then automatically pause your show so you don’t miss anything. The socks were launched by Netflix as a DIY project. Netflix provides the instructions, TV show-inspired sock patterns, a parts list, and the necessary lines of code to make the socks work. Netflix Socks are the second addition to Netflix’s “Make It” line of DIY complements. Netflix had previously introduced The Switch — a single button that will turn on your TV, open the Netflix app, dim the lights, silence your phone, and order your takeout. Both solutions — and whatever we see next on the Make It site — have a single purpose: alleviating hassles so that you can easily enjoy the company’s core product. Or, from a Jobs to be Done perspective, making sure that you can better satisfy important jobs related to entertainment free of any obstructive pain points.
Both Yondr and Netflix help prove that you don’t need to shoot for the moon to have a successful new product. You don’t need to invest in unheard-of technology or ideas that seem “so crazy they just might work.” In the case of these two companies, their new innovations were as simple as a sock. Plus a little light programming. More importantly, their innovations came from reframing their perspective of the market. By paying attention to the key trends that are affecting consumer behavior, understanding what jobs customers are struggling to get done, and identifying the pain points that are standing in the way of satisfying those jobs, companies can launch new offerings with a high degree of confidence in their ability to succeed.
Dave Farber is a strategy and innovation consultant at New Markets Advisors. He helps companies understand customer needs, build innovation capabilities, and develop plans for growth. He is a co-author of the award-winning book Jobs to be Done: A Roadmap for Customer-Centered Innovation.