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Is ‘Jobs to be Done’ the Road Map for Innovation?

CompetingCompeting Against Luck is the rather curious title of a new book by the eminent innovation guru, Clayton Christensen, ably assisted by three acolytes, Hall, Dillon and Duncan.  It is an important work which makes some big claims.  The authors expound and develop the theory of ‘Jobs to be Done’ and they assert that for the first time this gives a road map for where and how a company should innovate to undermine established leaders or create new markets.  The Jobs to be Done idea has been around for a while but this book puts it into an academic framework, gives many examples of how it has been used and advises methods for how to harness this approach.

The authors argue that managers focus mainly on product features, customer characteristics, trends, market data and competitive offerings.  They should instead focus on the job that the customer ‘hires’ their product or service to do.  A ‘job’ is defined as the progress that a person is trying to make in a particular circumstance.  For example when a smoker takes a smoke break they are superficially meeting a need for nicotine.  But the smoker is also hiring the cigarette to calm and relax him.  And in a work environment he will go outside for some social contact and gossip with fellow smokers.  So in some ways Facebook competes with smoking as Facebook is hired for a similar job to be done!

One of the most valuable parts of the book is the chapter on Job Hunting – how do you find the jobs that customers want done?  They recommend five methods:

  1. Close to home – look for your own problems and pain points for jobs that you and other people need.
  2. Competing with nothing – you can learn more from the people who are not hiring any product or service than from those who are. There might be a huge opportunity with people who find all current offerings inconvenient in some way.
  3. Workarounds – Try to spot consumers who are struggling to resolve a job to be done by cobbling together a workaround or compensating behaviour.
  4. Look for things that people don’t want to do.  CVS pharmacy stores were founded to give instant advice and meet the medication needs of people who do not want to wait in line to see a doctor.
  5. Unusual uses. Observe how your customers use your products – especially in ways that you had never envisioned.

Another important insight is that hiring a new product usually involves firing an old one.  Managers focus on the great new features in their product but neglect to consider the emotional and practical inconveniences of moving away from the client’s current solution.

Uncovering a job to be done is just the start.  New products succeed not because of the features they offer but because of the experiences they enable.  The book goes on to show how you can develop functional, emotional and social dimensions of the progress that the customer wants.

There are many well documented case studies in the book including American Girl dolls, IKEA furniture, Kimberley-Clark incontinence pads, Medtronic pacemakers, P&G diapers and Intuit Quickbooks.  Sometimes the examples seem a little forced to fit the theory but they are valuable none the less.

The book is written in a very solid, academic and workmanlike style so it is not an exciting read.  If you are familiar with Jobs to be Done theory then you may be disappointed that the book contains no major new insights or revelations.  Nevertheless this volume covers the concept thoroughly and is an important addition to the bookshelf of any innovation advisor or practitioner.

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3 thoughts on “Is ‘Jobs to be Done’ the Road Map for Innovation?

  1. Possibly “thin and forced” but the book by Innosight through the name and work of Clayton prompted Tony Ulwick to write a recently released Jobs-to-be-done book that is quick to read, informative and fills many of the gaps. Why- perhaps he through Strategyn have been focused specifically on the JtbD and ODI thinking for coming up to 20 + years

    So far I have only one of the two books on my shelf and you might quess which one. Your review as yet does not force it onto my bookshelf by the way you conclude Paul

    Thanks

  2. Sadly I thought it the biggest load of over hyped dribble that I have read in recent years. Padded with “cases” that are great stories but no more than that, the book bundles up concepts that have been used by marketers since the 60’s and packages it as a new approach. Very disappointing.

    1. That’s kinda sad Chris, most writers are also doing that taking concepts that people are doing since and brand it into something “new”. Improving an idea is not bad but this book never address the “improving” part. Case studies they used are inspiring though.

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