My mentor Clayton Christensen, Professor at Harvard Business School and originator of the term “disruptive innovation,” is fond of saying that great innovations come from deeply understanding customers’ jobs to be done. Are “jobs” different from customers’ needs or sought-after outcomes?
Yes. All too often, marketers define “needs” in terms of product requirements, like the need for a car driver to have a cupholder. A driver’s “jobs” can be much more expansive. For instance, he may have a broader job to eat while driving, and still a broader one to avoid wasting time. Seen through this lens, an automaker has many more avenues for innovation than simply perfecting a cupholder. To address the job of eating while driving, the company may create a thin but sturdy tray that folds out from the center dashboard to hold a sandwich, and a tab under the passenger’s side dash where the driver can attach a small plastic trash bag. To help the driver avoid the feeling of wasted time, the company could e-mail its customers a weekly set of “best of” podcasts chosen to meet their interests. Importantly, the competition for getting a job done often is not in a company’s traditional product class, but instead customer frustration and doing nothing, or an alternative from a completely different industry. Examining jobs to be done can vastly increase the number of levers a company might pull to create innovative offerings.
“Outcomes” are also distinct. When customers say what outcomes they are trying to achieve, they provide precise guidance to product developers without stipulating how the engineers choose to accomplish the goal. For example, an outcome for a driver might be “avoid spilling coffee when cups are very full.” This is useful. However, customers are notoriously bad at stipulating the emotional aspects of what they are trying to do, such as how a driver might want to avoid the feeling of wasting time. They can also be terrible at providing outcome-related guidance for products that do not exist. For example, what outcomes would customers have recited to inspire Apple to create the iPad? To refine successive versions of the iPad, outcomes such as “read in bright sunlight” are important, but this sort of customer input often does not point to new avenues for innovation. By contrast, understanding the job of “read the things I never get the time to read” may have been far more useful. The jobs that customers are trying to get done stem from context and attitudes, as well as good old-fashioned marketing “needs.” They involve both functional and emotional elements. By understanding customers’ jobs to be done, companies can broaden the canvas for innovation, excelling along dimensions that don’t even occur to their competitors. Firms that embrace jobs to be done win through being different.
Story by Steve Wunker.