Note: While reading a book whenever I come across something interesting, I highlight it on my Kindle. Later I turn those highlights into a blogpost. It is not a complete summary of the book. These are my notes which I intend to go back to later. Let’s start!

  • For most companies, innovation is still painfully hit or miss. And worst of all, all this activity gives the illusion of progress, without actually causing it. Companies are spending exponentially more to achieve only modest incremental innovations while completely missing the mark on the breakthrough innovations critical to long-term, sustainable growth. As Yogi Berra famously observed: “We’re lost, but we’re making good time!”

  • What’s gone so wrong? Here is the fundamental problem: the masses and masses of data that companies accumulate are not organized in a way that enables them to reliably predict which ideas will succeed. Instead the data is along the lines of “this customer looks like that one,” “this product has similar performance attributes as that one,” and “these people behaved the same way in the past,” or “68 percent of customers say they prefer version A over version B.” None of that data, however, actually tells you why customers make the choices that they do.

  • Let me illustrate. Here I am, Clayton Christensen. I’m sixty-four years old. I’m six feet eight inches tall. My shoe size is sixteen. My wife and I have sent all our children off to college. I live in a suburb of Boston and drive a Honda minivan to work. I have a lot of other characteristics and attributes. But these characteristics have not yet caused me to go out and buy the New York Times today. There might be a correlation between some of these characteristics and the propensity of customers to purchase the Times. But those attributes don’t cause me to buy that paper—or any other product.

  • If a company doesn’t understand why I might choose to “hire” its product in certain circumstances—and why I might choose something else in others—its data about me or people like me is unlikely to help it create any new innovations for me. It’s seductive to believe that we can see important patterns and cross-references in our data sets, but that doesn’t mean one thing actually caused the other. As Nate Silver, author of The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail—But Some Don’t, points out, “ice cream sales and forest fires are correlated because both occur more often in the summer heat. But there is no causation; you don’t light a patch of the Montana brush on fire when you buy a pint of Häagen-Dazs.”

  • Correlation does not reveal the one thing that matters most in innovation—the causality behind why I might purchase a particular solution. Yet few innovators frame their primary challenge around the discovery of a cause. Instead, they focus on how they can make their products better, more profitable, or differentiated from the competition.

  • When we buy a product, we essentially “hire” something to get a job done. If it does the job well, when we are confronted with the same job, we hire that same product again. And if the product does a crummy job, we “fire” it and look around for something else we might hire to solve the problem. Those customers weren’t simply buying a product, they were hiring the milk shake to perform a specific job in their lives. What causes us to buy products and services is the stuff that happens to us all day, every day. We all have jobs we need to do that arise in our day-to-day lives and when we do, we hire products or services to get these jobs done. Armed with that perspective, the team found itself standing in a restaurant for eighteen hours one day, watching people: What time did people buy these milk shakes? What were they wearing? Were they alone? Did they buy other food with it? Did they drink it in the restaurant or drive off with it?

  • It turned out that a surprising number of milk shakes were sold before 9:00 a.m. to people who came into the fast-food restaurant alone. It was almost always the only thing they bought. They didn’t stop to drink it there; they got into their cars and drove off with it. So we asked them: “Excuse me, please, but I have to sort out this puzzle. What job were you trying to do for yourself that caused you to come here and hire that milk shake?” At first the customers themselves had a hard time answering that question until we probed on what else they sometimes hired instead of a milk shake. But it soon became clear that the early-morning customers all had the same job to do: they had a long and boring ride to work. They needed something to keep the commute interesting. They weren’t really hungry yet, but they knew that in a couple of hours, they’d face a midmorning stomach rumbling. It turned out that there were a lot of competitors for this job, but none of them did the job perfectly. “I hire bananas sometimes. But take my word for it: don’t do bananas. They are gone too quickly—and you’ll be hungry again by midmorning,” one told us. Doughnuts were too crumbly and left the customers’ fingers sticky, making a mess on their clothes and the steering wheel as they tried to eat and drive. Bagels were often dry and tasteless—forcing people to drive their cars with their knees while they spread cream cheese and jam on the bagels. Another commuter confessed, “One time I hired a Snickers bar. But I felt so guilty about eating candy for breakfast that I never did it again.” But a milk shake? It was the best of the lot. It took a long time to finish a thick milk shake with that thin straw. And it was substantial enough to ward off the looming midmorning hunger attack. One commuter effused, “This milk shake. It is so thick! It easily takes me twenty minutes to suck it up through that thin straw. Who cares what the ingredients are—I don’t. All I know is that I’m full all morning. And it fits right here in my cup holder”—as he held up his empty hand. It turns out that the milk shake does the job better than any of the competitors—which, in the customers’ minds, are not just milk shakes from other chains but bananas, bagels, doughnuts, breakfast bars, smoothies, coffee, and so on. As the team put all these answers together and looked at the diverse profiles of these people, another thing became clear: what these milk shake buyers had in common had nothing to do with their individual demographics. Rather, they all shared a common job they needed to get done in the morning.

  • “Help me stay awake and occupied while I make my morning commute more fun.” The morning job needs a more viscous milk shake, which takes a long time to suck up during the long, boring commute. You might add in chunks of fruit, but not to make it healthy. That’s not the reason it’s being hired. Instead, fruit or even bits of chocolate would offer a little “surprise” in each sip of the straw and help keep the commute interesting. You could also think about moving the dispensing machine from behind the counter to the front of the counter and providing a swipe card, so morning commuters could dash in, fill a milk shake cup themselves, and rush out again. In the afternoon, I’m the same person, but in very different circumstances. The afternoon, placate-your-children-and-feel-like-a-good-dad job is very different. Maybe the afternoon milk shake should come in half sizes so it can be finished more quickly and not induce so much guilt in Dad. If this fast-food company had only focused on how to make its product “better” in a general way—thicker, sweeter, bigger—it would have been focusing on the wrong unit of analysis. You have to understand the job the customer is trying to do in a specific circumstance. If the company simply tried to average all the responses of the dads and the commuters, it would come up with a one-size-fits-none product that doesn’t do either of the jobs well.

  • People hired milk shakes for two very different jobs during the day, in two very different circumstances. Each job has a very different set of competitors—in the morning it was bagels and protein bars and bottles of fresh juice, for example; in the afternoon, milk shakes are competing with a stop at the toy store or rushing home early to shoot a few hoops—and therefore was being evaluated as the best solution according to very different criteria. This implies there is likely not just one solution for the fast-food chain seeking to sell more milk shakes. There are two. A one-size-fits-all solution would work for neither.

  • Shifting our understanding from educated guesses and correlation to an underlying causal mechanism is profound. Truly uncovering a causal mechanism changes everything about the way we solve problems—and, perhaps more important, prevents them. Take, for example, a more modern arena: automobile manufacturing.

  • Theory has a voice, but no agenda. A theory doesn’t change its mind: it doesn’t apply to some companies or people and not to others. Theories are not right or wrong. They provide accurate predictions, given the circumstances you are in.

  • Customers don’t buy products or services; they pull them into their lives to make progress. We call this progress the “job” they are trying to get done, and in our metaphor we say that customers “hire” products or services to solve these jobs.

  • We define a “job” as the progress that a person is trying to make in a particular circumstance. This definition of a job is not simply a new way of categorizing customers or their problems. It’s key to understanding why they make the choices they make. The choice of the word “progress” is deliberate. It represents movement toward a goal or aspiration. A job is always a process to make progress, it’s rarely a discrete event. A job is not necessarily just a “problem” that arises, though one form the progress can take is the resolution of a specific problem and the struggle it entails. Second, the idea of a “circumstance” is intrinsic to the definition of a job. A job can only be defined—and a successful solution created—relative to the specific context in which it arises. There are dozens of questions that could be important to answer in defining the circumstance of a job. “Where are you?” “When is it?” “Who are you with?” “While doing what?” “What were you doing half an hour ago?” “What will you be doing next?” “What social or cultural or political pressures exert influence?” And so on. Our notion of a circumstance can extend to other contextual factors as well, such as life-stage (“just out of college?” “stuck in a midlife crisis?” “nearing retirement?”), family status (“married, single, divorced?” “newborn baby, young children at home, adult parents to take care of?”), or financial status (“underwater in debt?” “ultra-high net worth?”) just to name a few. The circumstance is fundamental to defining the job (and finding a solution for it), because the nature of the progress desired will always be strongly influenced by the circumstance.

  • The emphasis on the circumstance is not hair-splitting or simple semantics—it is fundamental to the Job to Be Done. In our experience, managers usually don’t take this into account. Rather they typically follow one of four primary organizing principles in their innovation quest—or some composite thereof:
    • Product attributes
    • Customer characteristics
    • Trends
    • Competitive response
  • The point isn’t that any of these categories are bad or wrong—and they’re just a sampling of the most common. But they are insufficient, and therefore not predictive of customer behaviors.

  • Functional, Social, and Emotional Complexity: Finally, a job has an inherent complexity to it: it not only has functional dimensions, but it has social and emotional dimensions, too. In many innovations, the focus is often entirely on the functional or practical need. But in reality, consumers’ social and emotional needs can far outweigh any functional desires. Think of how you would hire childcare. Yes, the functional dimensions of that job are important—will the solution safely take care of your children in a location and manner that works well in your life—but the social and emotional dimensions probably weigh more heavily on your choice. “Who will I trust with my children?”

  • What Is a Job? To summarize, the key features of our definition are:
    • A job is the progress that an individual seeks in a given circumstance.
    • Successful innovations enable a customer’s desired progress, resolve struggles, and fulfill unmet aspirations. They perform jobs that formerly had only inadequate or nonexistent solutions.
    • Jobs are never simply about the functional—they have important social and emotional dimensions, which can be even more powerful than functional ones.
    • Because jobs occur in the flow of daily life, the circumstance is central to their definition and becomes the essential unit of innovation work—not customer characteristics, product attributes, new technology, or trends.
    • Jobs to Be Done are ongoing and recurring. They’re seldom discrete “events.”
    • A well-defined job offers a kind of innovation blueprint. This is very different from the traditional marketing concept of “needs” because it entails a much higher degree of specificity about what you’re solving for. Needs are ever present and that makes them necessarily more generic. “I need to eat” is a statement that is almost always true. “I need to feel healthy.” “I need to save for retirement.” Those needs are important to consumers, but their generality provides only the vaguest of direction to innovators as to how to satisfy them. Needs are analogous to trends—directionally useful, but totally insufficient for defining exactly what will cause a customer to choose one product or service over another. Simply needing to eat isn’t going to cause me to pick one solution over another—or even pull any solution into my life at all. I might skip a meal. And needs, by themselves, don’t explain all behavior: I might eat when I’m not hungry at all for a myriad of reasons.
  • Jobs take into account a far more complex picture. The circumstances in which I need to eat, and the other set of needs that might be critical to me at that moment, can vary wildly. Think back to our milk shake example. I may opt to hire a milk shake to resolve a job that arises in my own life. What will cause me to choose the milk shake are the bundle of needs that are in play in those particular circumstances. That bundle includes not only needs that are purely functional or practical (“I’m hungry and I need something for breakfast”), but also social and emotional (“I’m alone on a long, boring commute and want to entertain myself, but I’d be embarrassed if one of my colleagues caught me with a milk shake in my hand so early in the morning”). In those circumstances, some of my needs have a higher priority than others. I might, for example, opt to swing into the drive-through (where I won’t be seen) of the fast-food chain for a milk shake for that morning commute. But under different circumstances—I have my son with me, it’s dinnertime, and I want to feel like a good dad—the relative importance of each of my needs may cause me to hire the milk shake for an entirely different set of reasons. Or to turn to another solution to my job altogether.

  • Many wonderful inventions have been, unwittingly, built only around satisfying a very general “need.” Take, for example, the Segway, a two-wheeled, self-balancing electric vehicle invented by Dean Kamen. In spite of the media frenzy around the release of Kamen’s “top secret” invention that was supposed to change transportation forever, the Segway was, by most measures, a flop. It had been conceived around the need of more efficient personal transportation. But whose need? When? Why? In what circumstances? What else matters in the moment when somebody might be trying to get someplace more efficiently? The Segway was a cool invention, but it didn’t solve a Job to Be Done that a lot of people shared. I see them from time to time in tourist spots around Boston or in our local mall, but especially compared with the prelaunch hype, very few people felt compelled to pull the Segway into their lives.

  • On the other end of the spectrum from needs are what I’ll call the guiding principles of my life—overarching themes in my life that are ever present, just as needs are. I want to be a good husband, I want to be a valued member of my church, I want to inspire my students, and so on. These are critically important guiding principles to the choices I make in my life, but they’re not my Jobs to Be Done. Helping me feel like a good dad is not a Job to Be Done. It’s important to me, but it’s not going to trigger me to pull one product over another into my life. The concept is too abstract. A company couldn’t create a product or service to help me feel like a good dad without knowing the particular circumstances in which I’m trying to achieve that. The jobs I am hiring for are those that help me overcome the obstacles that get in the way of making progress toward the themes of my life—in specific circumstances. The full set of Jobs to Be Done as I go through life may roll up, collectively, into the major themes of my life, but they’re not the same thing.

  • Jobs insights are fragile—they’re more like stories than statistics. When we deconstruct coherent customer episodes into binary bits, such as “male/female,” “large company/small company,” “new customer/existing customer,” we destroy meaning in the process. Jobs Theory doesn’t care whether a customer is between the ages of forty and forty-five and what flavor choice they made that day. Jobs Theory is not primarily focused on “who” did something, or “what” they did—but on “why.” Understanding jobs is about clustering insights into a coherent picture, rather than segmenting down to finer and finer slices.

  • To really grasp a job is to imagine you are filming a minidocumentary of a person struggling to make progress in a specific circumstance.

  • Your Video Should Capture Essential Elements:
    • What progress is that person trying to achieve? What are the functional, social, and emotional dimensions of the desired progress? For example, a job that occurs in a lot of people’s lives: “I want to have a smile that will make a great first impression in my work and personal life”; or a struggle many managers might relate to: “I want the sales force I manage to be better equipped to succeed in their job so that the churn in staff goes down.”
    • What are the circumstances of the struggle? Who, when, where, while doing what? “I see a dentist twice a year and do all the right things to keep my teeth clean, but they never look white enough to me” or “It seems like every week, another one of my guys is giving notice because he’s burned out and I’m spending half my time recruiting and training new people.”
    • What obstacles are getting in the way of the person making that progress? For example, “I’ve tried a couple of whitening toothpastes and they don’t really work—they’re just a rip-off” or “I’ve tried everything I can think of to motivate my sales staff: bonus programs for them, offsite bonding days, I’ve bought them a variety of training tools. And they still can’t tell me what’s going wrong.”
    • Are consumers making do with imperfect solutions through some kind of compensating behavior? Are they buying and using a product that imperfectly performs the job? Are they cobbling together a workaround solution involving multiple products? Are they doing nothing to solve their dilemma at all? For example, “I’ve bought one of those expensive home whitening kits, but you have to wear this awful mouth guard overnight and it kind of burns my teeth . . .” or “I have to spend time making sales calls myself—and I don’t have time for that!”
    • How would they define what “quality” means for a better solution, and what tradeoffs are they willing to make? For example, “I want the whitening performance of a professional dental treatment, without the cost and inconvenience” or “There are tons of ‘products’ and services I can purchase. But none of them actually help me do the job.”
  • It’s important to note that we don’t “create” jobs, we discover them. Jobs themselves are enduring and persistent, but the way we solve them can change dramatically over time. Think, for example, of the job of sharing information across long distances. That underlying job has not changed, but our solutions for it have: from Pony Express to telegraph to air mail to email and so on. For example, teenagers have had the job of communicating with each other without the nosy intervention of parents for centuries. Years ago, they passed notes in the school hallway or pulled the telephone cord all the way into the furthest corner of their room. But in recent years, teens have started hiring Snapchat, a smartphone app that allows messages to be delivered and then disappear almost instantly and a whole host of other things that could not even have been imagined a few decades ago. The creators of Snapchat understood the job well enough to create a superior solution. But that doesn’t mean Snapchat isn’t vulnerable to other competitors coming along with a better understanding of the complex set of social, emotional, and functional needs of teenagers in particular circumstances. Our understanding of the Job to Be Done can always get better. Adopting new technologies can improve the way we solve Jobs to Be Done. But what’s important is that you focus on understanding the underlying job, not falling in love with your solution for it

  • When a smoker takes a cigarette break, on one level he’s simply seeking the nicotine his body craves. That’s the functional dimension. But that’s not all that’s going on. He’s hiring cigarettes for the emotional benefit of calming him down, relaxing him. And if he works in a typical office building, he’s forced to go outside to a designated smoking area. But that choice is social, too—he can take a break from work and hang around with his buddies. From this perspective, people hire Facebook for many of the same reasons. They log onto Facebook during the middle of the workday to take a break from work, relax for a few minutes while thinking about other things, and convene around a virtual water cooler with far-flung friends. In some ways, Facebook is actually competing with cigarettes to be hired for the same Job to Be Done. Which the smoker chooses will depend on the circumstances of his struggle in that particular moment.

  • Managers and industry analysts like to keep their framing of competition simple—put like companies, industries, and products in the same buckets. Coke versus Pepsi. Sony PlayStation versus Xbox. Butter versus margarine. This conventional view of the competitive landscape puts tight constraints around what innovation is relevant and possible, as it emphasizes benchmarking and keeping up with the Joneses. Through this lens, opportunities to grab market share can seem finite, with most companies settling for gaining a few percentage points, within a zero-sum game.

  • But from a Jobs Theory perspective, the competition is seldom limited to products that the market chooses to lump into the same category. Netflix CEO Reed Hastings made this clear when recently asked by legendary venture capitalist John Doerr if Netflix was competing with Amazon. “Really we compete with everything you do to relax,” he told Doerr. “We compete with video games. We compete with drinking a bottle of wine. That’s a particularly tough one! We compete with other video networks. Playing board games.”

  • The competitive landscape shifts to something new, maybe uncomfortably new, but one with fresh potential when you see competition through a Jobs to Be Done lens.

  • SNHU case study
    • What are the experiences customers seek in order to make progress? There were no more leisurely responses to inquiries about financial aid. That twenty-four-hours-later generic email was transformed into a follow-up phone call from someone at SNHU in under ten minutes of an inquiry. In the competitive online-learning world, the first online-learning institution to actually speak to a prospective student is most likely the one to close the sale. So instead of being a perfunctory follow-up, the phone call itself, LeBlanc says, was seen as a crucial opportunity to remove barriers for the prospective student. “You can uncover and surface a lot of anxiety issues,” he says, “so those calls are with a well-trained counselor with all the information he needs at his fingertips [to help the student overcome whatever obstacles they’re facing]. Calls can go on for an hour, an hour and a half. At the end of the call, you’re engaged with us. And we know you’re much more likely to enroll.”
    • What obstacles must be removed? Decisions about a prospect’s financial aid package and how much previous college courses would be counted toward an SNHU degree were resolved within days—instead of weeks or even months.
    • What are the social, emotional, and functional dimensions? The university’s ads for the online program were completely reoriented so that they focused on how it could fulfill the job for later-life learners. The ads were aimed to resonate not just with the functional dimensions of the job, such as getting the training needed to advance in a career, but also with the emotional and social dimensions as well, such as the pride one feels in realizing a goal or the fulfillment of a commitment to a loved one. One ad featured a large SNHU bus roaming the country handing out large, traditionally framed diplomas to online learners who couldn’t be on campus for graduation. “Who did you get this degree for?” the voice-over asks, as the commercial captures glowing graduates in their home environment. “I got it for me,” one woman says, hugging her diploma. “I did this for my mom,” beams a thirty-something man. “I did it for you, bud,” one father says, holding back tears, as his young son chirps, “Congratulations, Daddy!”
    • But perhaps most important, SNHU realized that enrolling prospects in a first class was only the beginning of doing the job or them. To truly fulfill the job that those applicants were hiring continuing education to do for them, SNHU had to make sure it succeeded in meeting their own goals. SNHU sets up each new online student with a personal adviser, who stays in constant contact—and notices red flags even before the students might—in order to help them continue to make the progress they want to make. Haven’t checked out this week’s assignment by Wednesday or Thursday? Your adviser will check in with you. The unit test went badly? You can count on a call from your adviser to see not only what’s going on with the class, but also what’s going on in your life. Your laptop is causing you problems? An adviser might just send you a new one.
    • SNHU’s staggering growth suggests that LeBlanc and his colleagues deeply understand these students’ Jobs to Be Done. There are now twelve hundred College of Online and Continuing Education (COCE) staffers at that site in the former mill yard in Manchester, and more than seventy-five thousand students in thirty-six states and countries around the world. “There have been times when we almost broke the machine, we were outgrowing our systems so much,” LeBlanc recalls. When growth has been that rapid, SNHU has dialed back its recruiting efforts until it can reinforce its internal support and systems. LeBlanc knows that if SNHU fails to deliver on the job, students will not hesitate to fire it and seek something that does the job better
  • Your organization has to build the right set of experiences in how customers find, purchase, and use your product or service—and integrate all the corresponding processes to ensure that those experiences are consistently delivered. When you are solving a customer’s job, your products essentially become services. What matters is not the bundle of product attributes you rope together, but the experiences you enable to help your customers make the progress they want to make.

  • Organizations that lack clarity on what the real jobs their customers hire them to do can fall into the trap of providing one-size-fits-all solutions that ultimately satisfy no one.

  • Deeply understanding jobs opens up new avenues for growth and innovation by bringing into focus distinct “jobs-based” segments—including groups of “nonconsumers” for which an acceptable solution does not currently exist. They choose to hire nothing, rather than something that does the job poorly. Nonconsumption has the potential to provide a very, very big opportunity.

  • Seeing your customers through a jobs lens highlights the real competition you face, which often extends well beyond your traditional rivals.

  • Questions for Leaders
    • What jobs are your customers hiring your products and services to get done?
    • Are there segments with distinct jobs that you are inadequately serving with a one-size-fits-none solution?
    • Are your products—or competitors’—overshooting what customers are actually willing to pay for?
    • What experiences do customers seek in order to make progress—and what obstacles must be removed for them to be successful?
    • What does your understanding of your customers’ Jobs to Be Done reveal about the real competition you are facing?
  • What was stopping buyers from making the decision to move was not something that the construction company had failed to offer, but rather the anxiety that came from giving up something that had profound meaning. One interviewee talked about needing days—and multiple boxes of tissues—to clean out just one closet in her house in preparation for the move. Every decision about what she had enough space to keep in the new location was emotional. Old photos. Children’s first-grade art projects. Scrapbooks. “She was reflecting on her life,” Moesta says. “Every choice felt like she was discarding a memory.” That realization helped Moesta and his team begin to understand the struggle these potential home buyers faced. “I went in thinking we were in the business of new home construction,” recalls Moesta. “But I realized we were instead in the business of moving lives.” With this understanding of the Job to Be Done, dozens of small, but important, changes were made to the offering. For example, the architect managed to create space in the units for a classic dining room table by reducing the size of the second bedroom by 20 percent. The company also focused on helping buyers with the anxiety of the move itself, which included providing moving services, two years of storage, and a sorting room space on the premises where new owners could take their time making decisions about what to keep and what to discard without the pressure of a looming move. Instead of thirty pages of customized choices, which actually overwhelmed buyers, the company offered three variations of finished units—a move that quickly reduced the “cold feet” contract cancellations from five or six a month to one. And so on.

  • Everything was designed to signal to buyers: we get you. We understand the progress you’re trying to make and the struggle to get there. Understanding the job enabled the company to get to the causal mechanism of why its customers might pull this solution into their lives. It was complex, but not complicated. That, in turn, allowed the housing company to differentiate its offering in ways competitors weren’t likely to copy—or even understand. A jobs perspective changed everything

  • Five ways to uncover jobs that might be right in front of you if you know what you’re looking for: seeing jobs in your own life, finding opportunity in nonconsumption, identifying workarounds, zoning in on things we don’t want to do, and spotting unusual uses of products
    • Finding a Job Close to Home. Understanding the unresolved jobs in your own life can provide fertile territory for innovation. Just look in the mirror—your life is very articulate. If it matters to you, it’s likely to matter to others. Take the example of Khan Academy founder Sal Khan’s initial amateur YouTube videos to help explain math to his young cousin. They weren’t even something new—there were hundreds of other online math tutorials on YouTube alone. Most of them looked and sounded better. “They weren’t using a USB headset like I was,” he recalls. “My version was cheap and dirty.” But there was one key difference. The other lessons felt complicated and pedantic. “They weren’t focusing on the core conceptual ideas—and they definitely weren’t fun,” he says. Not that his cousin could have told him that. “She was 12. I don’t know how introspective she was about the process,” he recalls. Khan’s cousin Nadia had found the way math was taught in her classroom at school stressful—as were the options of having her parents try their best to help her understand or asking the teacher for extra help. But with her cousin’s online videos, the stakes were low. Khan created his videos not simply to teach his cousin math, but to help him stay connected to his family and share his own love of learning. His cousin, on the other hand, hired his videos to feel successful by being able to learn complex math concepts in a way that was actually fun. Turns out there were lots of people who felt the same pain as his cousin. Today millions of students all over the world learn at their own pace through Khan Academy online. The good news is you don’t need to rely on personal inspiration to uncover a job that might provide a valuable innovation opportunity for your organization. You can learn a lot just by watching the customers you do—and don’t—already have. But you have to know what you’re looking for
    • Competing with Nothing. You can learn as much about a Job to Be Done from people who aren’t hiring any product or service as you can from those who are. We call this “nonconsumption,” when consumers can’t find any solution that actually satisfies their job and they opt to do nothing instead. Too often, companies consider only how they can grab shares away from competitors, but not where they can find unseen demand. They may not even see it at all because existing data isn’t going to tell them where to find it. But nonconsumption often represents the most fertile opportunities, as was true for Southern New Hampshire University.Once a company shakes off the shackles of category-based competition, the market for a breakthrough innovation can be much larger than might be assumed from the size of the traditional view of the competitive landscape. You won’t see nonconsumption if you’re not looking for it.Chip Conley, Airbnb’s head of global hospitality and strategy, says that 40 percent of its “guests” say they would not have made a trip at all—or stayed with family—if Airbnb didn’t exist. And virtually all its “hosts” would never have considered renting out a spare room or even their whole home. For these customers, Airbnb is competing with nothing. A jobs perspective can change how you see the world so significantly that major new growth opportunities arise where none had seemed possible before. In fact, if it feels like there isn’t room for growth in a market, it could actually be a signal that you’ve defined the job poorly. There may be an entirely new growth opportunity right in front of you
    • Workarounds and Compensating Behaviors. As an innovator, spotting consumers who are struggling to resolve a Job to Be Done by cobbling together workarounds or compensating behaviors, as Kimberly-Clark did with Silhouettes, should cause your heart to beat a little faster. You’ve spotted potential customers—consumers who are so unhappy with the available solutions to a job they very deeply want to solve that they’re going to great lengths to create their own solution. Whenever you see a compensating behavior, pay very close attention, because it’s likely a clue that there is an innovation opportunity waiting to be seized—one on which customers would place a high value. But you won’t even see these anomalies—compensating behavior and cobbled-together workarounds—if you’re not fully immersed in the context of their struggle. Frustrated by how ridiculously difficult—and financially punitive—banks had made the experience of opening a savings account for a child, I have a friend who actually went to the extraordinary lengths of setting up a symbolic “Bank of Daddy” to help his children understand the power of compound interest. The children’s allowance and pocket money never actually went into a bank—Mom and Dad just kept it for them—but every month the dad would credit their allowance to the account and calculate and add the interest they had accrued, paying a reasonable interest rate, unlike the real bank. It’s no surprise that many people have given up on savings accounts altogether. For decades, traditional banks had made it clear that the segment of “low net worth” individuals who wanted a simple savings account was undesirable. They were unprofitable in banks’ existing business models. So the banks did everything in their power to put them off: requiring minimum balances and charging fees and penalties for every conceivable service. My friend’s children, with their pocket money and presents from Grammy and Grampy, were not part of a segment banks wanted to attract. But that didn’t mean there wasn’t a rich opportunity to be mined. Enter ING Direct, which saw the market through a new lens. There was a complex Job to Be Done that had little to do with the function of saving money. In my friend’s case, he wanted to feel like a good father by helping his children understand the power of saving toward goals. ING Direct took away the obstacles. It’s an incredibly simple offering: The bank offers a few savings accounts, a handful of certificates of deposit, and mutual funds. The bank has no deposit minimums—you can open an account with a single dollar, if you want. It’s fast, convenient, and more secure than jamming tens and twenties into the back of a drawer, leaving them in birthday cards and forgetting about them—or calculating outsized interest rates at the Bank of Daddy. ING Direct needed a very different cost structure and business model if it was going to make money—but that was much easier to make work once it understood the job customers were trying to do. Everything about ING Direct corresponded to solving customers’ Jobs to Be Done: because it was an online bank, its operating costs were a fraction of those of brick-and-mortar competitors. And it also had none of the overhead costs of specialists for wealth management, loans, international services, and so on. That meant the focus on profitability and efficiency came from a completely different angle—not about the burden of supporting operating costs, but optimizing to solve customers’ jobs. ING Direct swiftly became the fastest-growing bank in the United States. Traditional banks should have had all the tools to capture this market, but they focused instead on segmenting customers instead of understanding their Jobs to Be Done. In 2012 ING Direct was sold to Capital One for $9 billion
    • Look for What People Don’t Want to Do. I think I have as many jobs of not wanting to do something as ones that I want positively to do. I call them “negative jobs.” In my experience, negative jobs are often the best innovation opportunities. What parent doesn’t identify with this struggle: Your child wakes up with a sore throat. Your experience tells you it’s probably strep. You want your child to feel better and know that getting medicine in as quickly as possible is key, but gee, it’s really not a good day for this to happen. It’s a busy day at work, the child-care arrangements will be complicated, and the last thing you want to have to do is take time to get to the doctor for what probably will be a quick poke and prod to confirm what you suspect. If you call the pediatrician, he will, in good conscience, say he can’t prescribe anything without seeing your child. After finagling your way into an unscheduled appointment, you might sit in that waiting room for a long time until the doctor squeezes you in. Hours after that first call, when you finally get into the exam room, the doctor looks at your child, does a quick culture, and concludes it’s strep throat. He’ll call something into the pharmacy but you have to wait thirty minutes to pick it up. The whole afternoon is shot. In this case, the Job to Be Done is “I don’t want to see the doctor.” Harvard Business School alum Rick Krieger and some partners decided to start QuickMedx, the forerunner of CVS MinuteClinics, after Krieger spent a frustrating few hours waiting in an emergency room for his son to get a strep-throat test. CVS MinuteClinic can see walk-in patients instantly and nurse practitioners can prescribe medicines for routine ailments, such as conjunctivitis, ear infections, and strep throat. Because most people don’t want to go to the doctor if they don’t have to, there are now more than a thousand MinuteClinic locations inside CVS pharmacy stores in thirty-three states
    • Unusual Uses. You can learn a lot by observing how your customers use your products, especially when they use them in a way that is different from what your company has envisioned. A story I often use to explain to my students how to find jobs that are hidden in plain sight is the case of Church & Dwight’s baking soda “category.” For nearly a century, the company’s iconic orange box of Arm & Hammer baking soda had been a staple in every American kitchen, an essential ingredient for baking. But in the late 1960s, management observed the diverse circumstances for which consumers grabbed that orange box off the shelf. They added it to laundry detergent, mixed it into toothpaste, sprinkled it on the carpet, or left an open box in the refrigerator, as well as other unusual uses. Until then, it hadn’t occurred to management that their staple product could possibly be hired for any job other than classic baking. But those observations led to a jobs-based strategy with the introduction of the first phosphate-free laundry detergent and a series of other highly successful new products, such as cat litter, carpet cleaner, air fresheners, deodorant, and so on.
  • Today, we see the Arm & Hammer brand on a wide range of products—but each responding to a specific Job to Be Done:
    • Help my mouth feel fresh and clean
    • Deodorize my refrigerator
    • Keep my swimming pool clean and fresh for me and my environment
    • Help my underarms stay clean and fresh
    • Clean and freshen my carpets
    • Deodorize that stinky cat litter!
    • Freshen the air in this room
    • Remove shower stain and mildew
  • It’s not that these jobs were new—they’ve long existed. Church & Dwight just had to discover them. The orange-box baking-soda business is now less than 7 percent of Arm & Hammer’s consumer revenue; observing unusual uses has spawned millions of dollars in new product creations.

  • Some of the biggest successes in consumer packaged goods in recent years have come not from jazzy new products, but from a job identified through unusual uses of long-established products. For example, NyQuil had been on the market for decades as a cold remedy, but it turned out that some consumers were knocking back a couple of spoonfuls to help them sleep, even when they weren’t sick. Hence, ZzzQuil was born, offering consumers the good night’s rest they wanted without the other active ingredients they didn’t need.

  • When marketers understand the structure of the market from the customer’s Job to Be Done perspective, instead of through product or customer categories, the potential size of the markets they serve suddenly becomes very different. Growth can be found where none seemed possible before.

  • If a consumer doesn’t see his job in your product, it’s already game over. Even worse—if a consumer hires your product for reasons other than its intended Job to Be Done, you risk alienating that consumer forever.

  • Jobs Theory provides a clear guide for successful innovation because it enables a full, comprehensive insight into all the information you need to create solutions that perfectly nail the job.

  • There are many ways to develop a deep understanding of the job, including traditional market research techniques. While it’s helpful to develop a “job hunting” strategy, what matters most is not the specific techniques you use, but the questions you ask in applying them and how you piece the resulting information together.

  • A valuable source of jobs insights is your own life. Our lives are very articulate and our own experiences offer fertile ground for uncovering Jobs to Be Done. Some of the most successful innovations in history have derived from the experiences and introspection of individuals.

  • While most companies spend the bulk of their market research efforts trying to better understand their current customers, important insights about jobs can often be gathered by studying people who are not buying your products—or anyone else’s—a group we call nonconsumers.

  • If you observe people employing a workaround or “compensating behavior” to get a job done, pay close attention. It’s usually a clue that you have stumbled on to a high-potential innovation opportunity, because the job is so important and they are so frustrated that they are literally inventing their own solution.

  • Closely studying how customers use your products often yields important insights into the jobs, especially if they are using them in unusual and unexpected ways.

  • Most companies focus disproportionately on the functional dimensions of their customers’ jobs; but you should pay equally close attention to uncovering the emotional and social dimensions, as addressing all three dimensions is critical to your solution nailing the job.

  • Questions for Leaders
    • What are the important, unsatisfied jobs in your own life, and in the lives of those closest to you? Flesh out the circumstances of these jobs, and the functional, emotional, and social dimensions of the progress you are trying to make—what innovation opportunities do these suggest?
    • If you are a consumer of your own company’s products, what jobs do you use them to get done? Where do you see them falling short of perfectly nailing your jobs, and why?
    • Who is not consuming your products today? How do their jobs differ from those of your current customers? What’s getting in the way of these nonconsumers using your products to solve their jobs?
  • Go into the field and observe customers using your products. In what circumstances do they use them? What are the functional, emotional, and social dimensions of the progress they are trying to make? Are they using them in unexpected ways? If so, what does this reveal about the nature of their jobs?

  • Most companies want to stay closely connected to their customers to make sure they’re creating the products and services those customers want. Rarely, though, can customers articulate their requirements accurately or completely—their motivations are more complex and their pathways to purchase more elaborate than they can describe. But you can get to the bottom of it. What they hire—and equally important, what they fire—tells a story. That story is about the functional, emotional, and social dimensions of their desire for progress—and what prevents them from getting there. The challenge is in becoming part sleuth and part documentary filmmaker—piecing together clues and observations—to reveal the jobs customers are trying to get done.

  • Consumers can’t always articulate what they want. And even when they do, their actions may tell a different story. If I asked you if you care about being environmentally friendly, most of us would say yes. We’d talk about how we recycle or walk instead of driving whenever possible. But if I opened your cupboards, would they tell the same story? How many new parents do you know who say they care about climate change, but gratefully stock disposable diapers instead of cloth? Do you happily pop a plastic K-cup into your coffee machine? On the other hand, research has consistently shown that a significant portion of customers are willing to pay more for foods that are labeled “organic,” a word that is so generically used that it’s almost meaningless. What explains the disparity? No one aspires to be environmentally unfriendly, but when the actual decision to pull a product into your life has to be made, you pick the solution that best represents the values and tradeoffs you care about in those particular circumstances.

  • OK, so if what consumers say is unreliable, can’t you just look at the data instead? Isn’t that objective? Well, data is prone to misinterpretation. Sales and marketing data in the toy industry told Pleasant Rowland that girls between the ages of seven and twelve would never play with dolls. And most data only tracks one of the two important moments in a customer’s decision to hire a product or service. The most commonly tracked is what we call the “Big Hire”—the moment you buy the product. But there’s an equally important moment that doesn’t show up in most sales data: when you actually “consume” it.

  • The moment a consumer brings a purchase into his or her home or business, that product is still waiting to be hired again—we call this the “Little Hire.” If a product really solves the job, there will be many moments of consumption. It will be hired again and again. But too often the data companies gather reflects only the Big Hire, not whether it meets customers’ Jobs to Be Done in reality. My wife may buy a new dress, but she doesn’t really consume it until she’s actually cut the tag off and worn it. It’s less important to know that she chose blue over green than it is to understand why she made the decision to finally wear it over all other options. How many apps do you have on your phone that seemed like a good idea to download, but you’ve more or less never used them again? If the app vendor simply tracks downloads, it’ll have no idea whether its app is doing a good job solving your desire for progress or not.

  • Jobs to Be Done have always existed. Innovations have just gotten better and better in the way we can respond to them. So no matter how new or revolutionary your product idea may be, the circumstances of struggle already exist. Consequently, in order to hire your new solution, by definition customers must fire some current compensating behavior or suboptimal solution—including firing the solution of doing nothing at all. Wristwatches were fired in droves as soon as people began carrying mobile phones that not only told them the time, but could sync with calendars and provide alarms and reminders. I fired my weekly Sports Illustrated when I could suddenly flip on ESPN. The people who hired Depend Silhouette incontinence products fired staying at home instead of risking going out. Companies don’t think about this enough. What has to get fired for my product to get hired? They think about making their product more and more appealing, but not what it will be replacing.

  • A customer’s decision-making process about what to fire and hire has begun long before she enters a store—and it’s complicated. There are always two opposing forces battling for dominance in that moment of choice and they both play a significant role.

  • The forces compelling change to a new solution: First of all, the push of the situation—the frustration or problem that a customer is trying to solve—has to be substantial enough to cause her to want to take action. A problem that is simply nagging or annoying might not be enough to trigger someone to do something differently. Secondly, the pull of an enticing new product or service to solve that problem has to be pretty strong, too. The new solution to her Job to Be Done has to help customers make progress that will make their lives better. This is where companies tend to focus their efforts, asking about features and benefits, and they think, reasonably, that this is the roadmap for innovation. How do we make our product incredibly attractive to hire?

  • The forces opposing change: There are two unseen, yet incredibly powerful, forces at play at the same time that many companies ignore completely: the forces holding a customer back. First, “habits of the present” weigh heavily on consumers. “I’m used to doing it this way.” Or living with the problem. “I don’t love it, but I’m at least comfortable with how I deal with it now.” And potentially even more powerful than the habits of the present is, second, the “anxiety of choosing something new.” “What if it’s not better?”

  • The job has to have sufficient magnitude to cause people to change their behavior—“I’m struggling and I want a better solution than I can currently find”—but the pull of the new has to be much greater than the sum of the inertia of the old and the anxieties about the new. There’s almost always some friction associated with switching from one product to another, but it’s also almost always discounted by innovators who are sure that their product is so fabulous it will erase any such concerns. It’s easy to fire things that simply offer functional solutions to a job. But when the decision involves firing something that has emotional and social dimensions to solving the job, that something is far harder to let go. No matter how frustrated we are with our current situation or how enticing a new product is, if the forces that pull us to hiring something don’t outweigh the hindering forces, we won’t even consider hiring something new

  • So how can you begin to map out these competing forces to get to the crux of your customers’ jobs? Your customers may not be able to tell you what they want, but they can tell you about their struggles.

  • What are they really trying to accomplish and why isn’t what they’re doing now working? What is causing their desire for something new? One simple way to think about these questions is through storyboarding. Talk to consumers as if you’re capturing their struggle in order to storyboard it later. Pixar has this down to a science: as you piece together your customers’ struggle, you can literally sketch out their story.

  • You’re building their story, because through that you can begin to understand how the competing forces and context of the job play out for them.

  • Airbnb’s founders clearly understood this. Before launching, the company meticulously identified and then storyboarded forty-five different emotional moments for Airbnb hosts (people willing to rent out their spare room or entire home) and guests. Together, those storyboards almost make up a minidocumentary of the jobs people are hiring Airbnb to do. “When you storyboard something, the more realistic it is, the more decisions you have to make,” CEO Brian Chesky told Fast Company. “Are these hosts men or women? Are they young, are they old? Where do they live? The city or the countryside? Why are they hosting? Are they nervous? It’s not that they [the guests] show up to the house. They show up to the house, how many bags do they have? How are they feeling? Are they tired? At that point you start designing for stuff for a very particular use case.”

  • One of the critical storyboard moments, for example, is the first Little Hire moment for guests—when they first turn up at the home in which they’ll stay. How are they greeted? If they’re expecting a place that has been described as relaxing, is that evident? Maybe there should be soft music playing or a scented candle, says Airbnb’s Chip Conley. Has the host made them feel at ease with their decision? Has the host made clear how they will solve any issues or problems that arise during the stay? And so on. The experience must match the customers’ vision of what they hired Airbnb to do. The Airbnb storyboards—which have been constantly tweaked and improved since its founding—reflect the importance of the combination of pushes and pulls that drive their customers’ Big Hires and Little Hires.

  • The moments of struggle, nagging tradeoffs, imperfect experiences, and frustrations in peoples’ lives—those are the what you’re looking for. You’re looking for recurring episodes in which consumers seek progress but are thwarted by the limitations of available solutions. You’re looking for surprises, unexpected behaviors, compensating habits, and unusual product uses. The how—and this is a place where many marketers trip up—are ground-level, granular, extended narratives with a sample size of one. Remember, the insights that lead to successful new products look more like a story than a statistic. They’re rich and complex. Ultimately, you want to cluster together stories to see if there are similar patterns, rather than break down individual interviews into categories.

  • Refer to this mattress case study which explains the forces

  • Deeply understanding a customer’s real Job to Be Done can be challenging in practice. Customers are often unable to articulate what they want; even when they do describe what they want, their actions often tell a completely different story.

  • Seemingly objective data about customer behavior is often misleading, as it focuses exclusively on the Big Hire (when the customer actually buys a product) and neglects the Little Hire (when the customer actually uses it). The Big Hire might suggest that a product has solved a customer’s job, but only a consistent series of Little Hires can confirm it.

  • Before a customer hires any new product, you have to understand what he’ll need to fire in order to hire yours. Companies don’t think about this enough. Something always needs to get fired.

  • Hearing what a customer can’t say requires careful observation of and interactions with customers, all carried out while maintaining a “beginner’s mind.” This mindset helps you to avoid ingoing assumptions that could prematurely filter out critical information.

  • Developing a full understanding of the job can be done by assembling a kind of storyboard that describes in rich detail the customer’s circumstances, moments of struggle, imperfect experiences, and corresponding frustrations.

  • As part of your storyboard, it’s critically important to understand the forces that compel change to a new solution, including the “push” of the unsatisfied job itself and the “pull” of the new solution.

  • It is also critical to understand the forces opposing any change, including the inertia caused by current habits and the anxiety about the new.

  • If the forces opposing change are strong, you can often innovate the experiences you provide in a way that mitigates them, for example by creating experiences that minimize the anxiety of moving to something new.

  • Questions for Leaders
    • What evidence do you have that you’ve clearly understood your customers’ jobs? Do your customers’ actions correspond to what they tell you they want? Do you have evidence that your customers make the Little Hire and the Big Hire?
    • Can you tell a complete story about how your customers go from a circumstance of struggle, to firing their current solution, and ultimately hiring yours (both the Big and the Little Hires)? Where are there gaps in your storyboard and how can you fill them in?
    • What are the forces that impede potential customers from hiring your product? How could you innovate the experiences surrounding your product to overcome these forces?
  • Uncovering a job in all its rich complexity is only the beginning. You’re a long way from getting hired. But truly understanding a Job to Be Done provides a sort of decoder to that complexity—a language that enables clear specifications for solving Jobs to Be Done. New products succeed not because of the features and functionality they offer but because of the experiences they enable.

  • When you see a company that has a product or service that no one has successfully copied, like American Girl, rarely is it the product itself that is the source of the long-term competitive advantage, something American Girl founder Pleasant Rowland understood. “You’re not trying to just get the product out there, you hope you are creating an experience that will do the job perfectly,” says Rowland. You’re creating experiences that, in effect, make up the product’s résumé: “Here’s why you should hire me.”

  • That’s why American Girl has been so successful for so long, in spite of numerous attempts by competitors to elbow in. My wife, Christine, and I were willing to splurge on the dolls because we understood what they stood for. American Girl dolls are about connection and empowering self-belief—and the chance to savor childhood just a bit longer. I have found that creating the right set of experiences around a clearly defined job—and then organizing the company around delivering those experiences almost inoculates you against disruption. Disruptive competitors almost never come with a better sense of the job. They don’t see beyond the product. Preteen girls hire the dolls to help articulate their feelings and validate who they are—their identities, their sense of self, and their cultural and racial background—and offer them hope that they can surmount the challenges in their lives. The Job to Be Done for parents, who are actually purchasing the doll, is to help engage both mothers and daughters in a rich conversation about the generations of women that came before them, and their struggles and their strength. Those conversations had disappeared as more and more women entered the workforce in the years after the women’s movement, and mothers and grandmothers were craving an opportunity to bring them back into their lives. The dolls—and their worlds—reflect Rowland’s nuanced and sophisticated understanding of the job. There are dozens of American Girl dolls representing a broad cross section of profiles. For example, there’s Kaya, a young girl from a Northwest Native American tribe in the late eighteenth century. Her back story tells of her leadership, her compassion, her courage, and her loyalty. There’s Kristen Larson, a Swedish immigrant who settles in the Minnesota territory and faces hardships and challenges but triumphs in the end. There’s modern-era Lindsey Bergman who is focused on her upcoming bat mitzvah. And so on. A significant part of the allure is the well-written, historically accurate books about each character’s life that express feelings and struggles that the preteen owner might be sharing. The books may be even more popular than the dolls themselves. Rowland and her team thought through every aspect of the experience required to perform the job very, very well. The dolls were never sold in traditional toy stores, thrown in the mix alongside any number of competitors. They were initially available only through a catalog, then later at American Girl stores, which were initially created in a few major metropolitan areas. It turned out this added to the experience, turning a trip to the American Girl store into a special day out with mom (or dad). American Girl stores have doll hospitals that can repair tangled hair or fix broken parts. Some of the stores have restaurants in which parents, children, and their dolls can happily sit and be served from a kid-friendly menu—or host birthday parties. The dolls become the catalyst for experiences with mom and dad that will be remembered forever. No detail was too small to consider for its experiential value. That familiar red-and-pink packaging that the dolls come in? Rowland designed them with a clear window of the doll inside, but they were wrapped with what’s known as a belly band—a narrow wrapper around the whole box—and the dolls were packed in tissue paper. That belly band, Rowland remembers, added two cents and twenty-seven seconds to the actual packaging process itself. The designers suggested they simply print the doll’s name right on the box itself to save time and money—an idea Rowland rejected out of hand. “I said you’re not getting it. What has to happen to make this special to the child? I don’t want her to see some shrink-wrapped thing coming out of the box. The fact that she has to wait just a split second to get the band off and open the tissue under the lid makes it exciting to open the box. It’s not the same as walking down the aisle in the toy store and picking a Barbie off the shelf. That’s the kind of detail we tended to. I just kept going back to my own childhood to the things that made me excited.” American Girl was so successful in nailing the Job to Be Done of both mothers and daughters that it was able to use its core offerings—and the loyalty they established—as a platform to expand into what might seem to be wildly diverse fields. Dolls, books, retail stores, movies, clothes, restaurants, beauty parlors, and even a live theater in Chicago, all of which Rowland actually had in mind before she launched the company. They simply made intuitive sense to her—based on the happy experiences of her own childhood—and aligned squarely with the job. Going to the live theater for an American Girl show? That harkened back to the days when she used to put on white gloves to go to Chicago Symphony concerts with her own mother. “That was a moment I was trying to re-create for girls when they went to the American Girl store. It was very much coming out of my life experience,” she explains. “I simply trusted my memories of childhood.” Three decades after its launch, there’s a generation of American Girl fans who are now adults and eager to share the dolls—and the experiences they enable—with their own children. We have a family friend who still buys American Girl dolls for her adult daughter at Christmas with the express wish that she hands them down to her own daughters someday. Under Mattel’s ownership, it has seen a slight dip in sales in the past couple of years, but no one has been successful in unseating American Girl from its perch. “I think nobody was willing to put the depth in the product to create the experience,” says Rowland. “They thought it was a product. They never got the story part right.” To date, no other toy manufacturer has been able to copy American Girl’s magic formula.

  • A deep understanding of a job provides a sort of decoder to the complexity—a job spec, if you will. Whereas the job itself is the framing of the circumstance from the perspective of the consumer with the Job to Be Done, as he or she confronts a struggle to make progress, the job spec is from the innovator’s point of view: What do I need to design, develop, and deliver in my new product offering so that it solves the consumer’s job well? You can capture the relevant details of the job in a job spec, including the functional, emotional, and social dimensions that define the desired progress, the tradeoffs the customer is willing to make, the full set of competing solutions that must be beaten, and the obstacles and anxieties that must be overcome. That understanding should then be matched by an offering that includes a plan to surmount the obstacles and create the right set of experiences in purchasing and using the product. The job spec then becomes the blueprint that translates all the richness and complexity of the job into an actionable guide for innovation. Designed without a clear job spec, even the most advanced products are likely to fail. There are just too many details to nail and tricky tradeoffs to be made in creating customer value for innovators to rely on the luck of just guessing right. The experiences you create to respond to the job spec are critical to creating a solution that customers not only want to hire, but want to hire over and over again. There’s a reason successful jobs-based innovations are hard to copy—it’s in this level of detail that organizations create long-term competitive advantage because this is how customers decide what products are better than other products.

JTBD innovation

  • IKEA is one of the most profitable companies in the world and has been so for decades. Its owner, Ingvar Kamprad, is one of the wealthiest men in the world. How did he make so much money selling nondescript furniture that you have to assemble yourself? He identified a Job to Be Done. Here’s a business that doesn’t have any special business secrets. Any would-be competitor can walk through its stores, reverse-engineer its products, or copy its catalog. But no one has. Why not? IKEA’s entire business model—the shopping experience, the layout of the store, the design of the products and the way they are packaged—is very different from the standard furniture store. Most retailers are organized around a customer segment or a type of product. The customer base can then be divided up into target demographics, such as age, gender, education, or income level. There are competitors who sell to wealthy people—Roche Bobois sells sofas that cost thousands of dollars! There are stores known for selling low-cost furniture to lower-income people. And there are a host of other examples: stores organized around modern furniture for urban dwellers, stores that specialize in furniture for businesses, and so on. IKEA doesn’t focus on selling to any particular demographically defined group of consumers. IKEA is structured around jobs that lots of consumers share when they are trying to establish themselves and their families in new surroundings: “I’ve got to get this place furnished tomorrow, because the next day I have to show up at work.” Other furniture stores can copy IKEA’s products. They can even copy IKEA’s layout. But what has been difficult to copy are the experiences that IKEA provides its customers—and the way it has anticipated and helped its customers overcome the obstacles that get in their way. Nobody I know relishes the idea of spending a day shopping for furniture when they really, really need it right away. It’s not entertainment, it’s a frustrating challenge. Factor in that your children will likely be with you when you’re shopping and it could be a recipe for disaster. IKEA stores have a designated child-care area where you can leave your children to play while you wind your way through the store—and a café and ice cream stand to offer as a reward at the end. Don’t want to wait to get your bookshelves home? They’re flat-packed in cartons that can fit in or on most cars. Is it daunting to lay out all the parts to an unbuilt book-shelf and then have to put it together yourself? Absolutely. But it’s not overwhelming because IKEA has designed all its products to require just one simple tool (that’s included with every flat pack—and actually stored inside one of the pieces of wood so you can’t accidentally lose it when you open the box!). And everyone I know who has tackled an IKEA assembly ends up feeling pretty proud of himself or herself when it’s done.

  • Who is IKEA competing with? My son Michael hired it when he moved to California to start his doctoral studies: “Help me furnish my place today.” He’s got to decide what he’ll hire to do the job. So how does he decide? He has to have some kind of criteria to make his choice. At a fundamental level, he will factor in how much he cares about the basics of the offering: cost and quality, and the priorities and tradeoffs he’s willing to make in the context of the job he needs to get done. But he’ll care even more about what experiences each possible solution offers him in solving his job. And what obstacles he’d have to overcome to hire each possible solution. He’ll hire IKEA, even if it costs more than some of those other solutions, because it does the job better than any alternatives. The reason why we are willing to pay premium prices for a product that nails the job is because the full cost of a product that fails to do the job—wasted time, frustration, spending money on poor solutions, and so on—is significant to us. The “struggle” is costly—you’re already spending time and energy to find a solution and so, even when a premium price comes along, your internal calculus makes that look small compared with what you’ve already been spending, not only financially, but also in personal resources. Other furniture stores might offer Michael free delivery, but it will probably take days or even weeks to deliver the furniture he wants to purchase. What is he going to sit on tomorrow? Craigslist offers bargains, but he’ll have to cobble together his furniture choices and rent a car to drive all over town to get them, probably enlisting a friend to help him lug them up and down the stairs. Discount furniture stores might offer some of IKEA’s benefits, but they’re not likely to be so easy to assemble at home. Unfinished furniture stores have decent quality products, but you have to paint them yourself! That’s not easy to pull off in a small apartment. He’s not likely to feel good about any of these other choices.

  • You can only shape the experiences that are important to your customers when you understand who you are really competing with. That’s how you’ll know how to create your résumé to be hired for the job. And when you get that all right, your customers will be more than willing to pay a premium price because you’ll solve their job better than anyone else. I should clarify, however: sometimes customers get pushed into paying for premium products because they’re interdependent with a product that they have already hired to solve a job in their lives. Think about the eye-popping price tag for printer-ink cartridges. Or smartphone rechargers or cases. We’ll give in and pay the premium price because there isn’t a better solution at the moment, but we will simultaneously despise the company for taking us to the cleaners. These products actually cause anxiety, rather than resolve it. I hated having to monitor how much color ink my kids were using on our home printer. I don’t like worrying about misplacing a charger. This is not what I mean about premium prices that customers are willing to pay. By contrast, with jobs-based innovations, customers don’t resent the price, they’re grateful for the solution.

  • Products that succeed in solving customers’ jobs essentially perform services in that customer’s life. They help them overcome the obstacles that get in their way of making the progress they seek. “Help me furnish this apartment today.” “Help me share our rich family history with my child.” Creating experiences and overcoming obstacles is how a product becomes a service to the customer, rather than simply a product with better features and benefits.

  • Medical-device manufacturer Medtronic learned this the hard way when it was trying to introduce a new pacemaker in India. On the surface, it seemed like a market full of potential, because, unfortunately, heart disease is the country’s number one killer. But for a variety of reasons, very few patients ever ended up opting for a pacemaker to solve their medical problem. For years, Medtronic had relied on traditional forms of research to develop its product offerings. “We were very good at understanding functional jobs,” recalls Keyne Monson, then senior director of international business development at the medical device manufacturer. For example, when Medtronic was looking to improve its pacemakers, it assembled panels of doctors to pick their brains about what they’d like to see in the next generation of the devices. The company then fielded quantitative surveys that validated the physician panels’ feedback and new products were created. The new versions of Medtronic’s pacemaker were clearly superior, but unfortunately they didn’t sell in India as well as the company had hoped. It had been nagging at Monson for some time that neither the qualitative nor quantitative approaches Medtronic had historically relied on had actually answered the question of why people would want to hire a pacemaker and what obstacles might get in their way—and to do so for the broader set of stakeholders involved. With the lens of Jobs to Be Done, the Medtronic team and Innosight (including my coauthor David Duncan) started research afresh in India. The team visited hospitals and care facilities, interviewing more than a hundred physicians, nurses, hospital administrators, and patients across the country. The research turned up four key barriers preventing patients from receiving much-needed cardiac care:
    • Lack of patient awareness of health and medical needs
    • Lack of proper diagnostics
    • Inability of patients to navigate the care pathway
    • Affordability
  • While there were competitors making some progress in India, the biggest competition was nonconsumption because of the challenges the Medtronic team identified. From a traditional perspective, Medtronic might have doubled down on doctors, asking them about priorities and tradeoffs in the product. What features would they value more, or less? Asking patients what they wanted would not have been top of the list of considerations from a marketing perspective. But when Medtronic revisited the problem through the lens of Jobs to Be Done, Monson says, the team realized that the picture was far more complex—and not one that Medtronic executives could have figured out from pouring over statistics of Indian heart disease or asking cardiologists how to make the pacemaker better. Medtronic has missed a critical component of the Job to Be Done. The experience of being a candidate for a pacemaker was filled with stresses and obstacles. For a patient to receive a pacemaker to help solve his heart issues, he would have had to navigate a complicated path. First, he might have seen a local general practitioner (GP), typically the first line of medical care, but not always someone with formal medical training. Each of these doctors saw hundreds of patients in a given day. “There were patient lines stretching down the hall,” Monson recalls. “There were so many people waiting to see the local GP, they actually pushed from the hallway into the doctor’s interview room and were lining the walls there, too.” The local GP had about thirty seconds with each patient and then he was passed on, either with a prescription, recommendations, or a referral to a specialist. Symptoms that might suggest a pacemaker can be easily confused with those of other medical conditions. It would be virtually impossible for a prospective patient to find his way from a brief GP visit to the right heart surgeon to implant a pacemaker. Even if he did get that far, referral to a higher-order specialist meant the patient was jettisoned into a system in which he was a complete stranger to the medical teams who would take the process further. Navigating the referral process after a GP did recommend someone for a pacemaker was confusing—and expensive—for a patient who had to pay for health care out of pocket. So Medtronic adjusted not only its marketing efforts, but also the services it provided to directly target potential patients. For example, in conjunction with local cardiologists, Medtronic organized heart-health screening clinics across the country—providing prospective patients with free, direct access to specialists and high-tech equipment without having to go through an overwhelmed GP first. The question of paying for a pacemaker and the attendant medical services was no small concern. So Medtronic created a loan program to help patients pay for the pacemaker procedure. The company initially assumed that patients might be drawn to loans that actually expired upon the patient’s death, so that they were not saddling the family with the burden of debt—the emotional and social component of their Job to Be Done. And, as the Medtronic team learned from patients themselves, that was what they often wanted. But friends and family wanted something different: they tended to rally around a patient to find the money necessary. In those cases, the patient was more likely simply to need a bridge loan until those funds could be gathered. Medtronic made sure that the loan process was not daunting for the family: a loan is typically approved within two days, requiring minimum paperwork and entailing no asset mortgage. The experience of navigating the complex web of health care in India could be overwhelming for both patients and their families. So the company began to work with local hospitals to create a patient counselor role, initially calling them “Sherpas,” that helped patients navigate the often mind-boggling bureaucracy of a hospital, keeping their procedure and aftercare as top priorities. The patient counselor role became so popular that hospitals asked if the company would allow patients obtaining pacemakers through traditional routes to seek assistance from a counselor, too. Seeing an opportunity to further identify Jobs to Be Done from within the hospital system, Medtronic jumped at the chance. “At the end of the day, we realized the role was such an important position, we adjusted the role. And we were OK with it,” Monson recalls. “It ingrained the value of that person into the entire hospital system, and thus our business model. And it made us the partner of choice. To me that was a clear example of hitting a Job to Be Done.” The first Medtronic pacemaker distributed through the Healthy Heart for All (HHFA) program in India was implanted in late 2010. Medtronic currently has partnerships with more than one hundred hospitals in thirty cities. India is considered to be one of the most high-potential growth markets for the company. According to Shamik Dasgupta, vice president of the Cardiac and Vascular Group, Indian Sub-Continent, Medtronic, “Under the HHFA initiative since its beginning till December 2015, around 167,000 patients have undergone screenings for heart diseases till date, out of which 89,900 patients were counselled and around 15,000 patients have received treatment, with financial assistance facility availed in approximately 550 cases.” Making that possible involved creating relationships with several partners who helped Medtronic accomplish customers’ jobs. “Through the assessment of Healthy Heart for All, Medtronic understood the need for partners in different stages of the patient care pathway who can be a strong support in removing the barriers to treatment access,” says Dasgupta. “In this case, partners with capabilities in financing, administration of loans, screening and counselling of patients played a major role. With programs like Healthy Heart for All, Medtronic is delivering greater value to patients, healthcare professionals and hospitals. And it is this value which brings true differentiation where product differentiation may not be easy to demonstrate.”

  • Organizations that focus on making the product itself better and better are missing what may be the most powerful causal mechanism of all—what are the experiences that customers seek in not only purchasing, but also in using this product? If you don’t know the answer to that question, you’re probably not going to be hired.

  • Amazon, too, knows exactly what experiences its customers value. Everything is built around delivering those experiences well. There are many factors that have enabled Amazon’s meteoric growth, but there is no way it could be “the everything store” without its customer reviews. In fact, I’d argue that it’s probably the hardest thing for any would-be competitor to copy. Why are Amazon’s reviews so powerful? Because they help customers make the progress they want to make. If I look around my house or my friends’ houses, for example, I can see a wide variety of products that were purchased on Amazon. A TV. A rice steamer. A digital camera. A smoothie maker. What enables me and millions of others to buy unfamiliar items with greater confidence by virtue of a listing on a website? The requisite list of features and functionality doesn’t help me much—in fact my eye tends to skip right over that section. But it does go immediately to the line that tells me where I can figure out if this is the right product to hire for my job: “56 reviews. 21 answered questions.” Sure, seeing an item with a bunch of four-out-of-five-star ratings helps, but what I really need to know is what do reviewers who were hiring for the same job as me have to say? There might be lots of toaster oven reviews about whether it browns the toast evenly (there are, apparently, a lot of people who care about that stuff!), but I really want to know whether it will help me heat a frozen pizza when I don’t want to crank up our conventional oven. I’m sure many people care about the pixels and zoom on a digital camera, but I just want to know that it is easy to set up and use. In other words, Amazon allows me to shop unfamiliar categories with total confidence because I can find folks who share my job and gauge the performance that matters most to me from those reviews. Amazon clearly understands the importance of these reviews. There are Hall of Fame reviewers (so noted on each review) and top ten thousand reviewer rankings—ranked by the number and percentage of helpful votes their reviews have received. In 2015 Amazon also introduced technology that automates giving more weight to newer reviews, reviews from verified Amazon purchasers, and reviews that more customers voted as being helpful. Companies that sell their wares on Amazon are so sensitive to the power of these reviews that they routinely email their customers shortly after the purchase has arrived at its destination to ask if they have any feedback—hoping to preempt any negative feedback before they end up on the review page. They go to extraordinary lengths, including no-hassle refunds or replacements, rather than risk a bad review from a top reviewer who will, certainly, influence how many people hire that product for their Job to Be Done. The experience that those reviews provide other customers is highly valued: “I don’t want the hassle of having to return it or just considering it wasted money. And I don’t want to wait two days to find out I still need another solution. How can I be sure I’m not making a mistake?” Online reviews have fundamentally improved the experience of purchasing almost anything in recent years. We can check reviews on everything from auto repair shops to insurance companies with a few clicks on our keyboard. Online reviews help great products get hired. But they are a two-sided coin. From the business’s perspective, they represent the first time in history where you have to think about how to convey who should not hire your product. A customer who hires your product or service for a job it is not intended to do will be sorely disappointed—and perhaps write a disgruntled online review. Negative reviews can break a business. Restaurant owners routinely grouse about being held hostage to their Yelp ratings, at the mercy of reviews by uninformed palates. Airbnb works with its “host” customers to make sure their listings make very clear who should—and shouldn’t—hire that particular listing, says Airbnb’s Chip Conley. Airbnb advises hosts to imagine that there’s “an invisible report card on the forehead of potential guests,” rating everything about how the actual location met their expectations. “Overselling” your listing will work against you very quickly on Airbnb—and in the increasing number of marketplaces in which reviews function almost like a currency. Airbnb listings emphasize what the local neighborhood is like and what kind of experience guests will have in the home. Is it convenient? Is it quiet and peaceful? Is it in the center of action? All those details are important to capture in both the description and photos so that guests won’t be disappointed with their choice—and write a poor review. Research has suggested that as many as 95 percent of consumers use reviews and 86 percent say they are essential when making purchase decisions. And nearly one-third of consumers under the age of forty-five consult reviews for every single purchase. Businesses now have to consider how to educate customers about what job these products and services are designed to do—and when potential customers should not consider hiring them.There is a tool that helps you avoid leaving your product or service vulnerable to customers who hire it for the wrong reasons. Done perfectly, your brand can become synonymous with the job—what’s known as a purpose brand.

  • A product that consistently creates the right experiences for resolving customers’ jobs should speak to the consumer: “Your search is over, pick me!” If you need to furnish the apartment you just rented or outfit your daughter’s dorm room, you better hope there’s an IKEA nearby. IKEA has become a purpose brand for “Help me furnish my apartment today.”

  • Purpose brands play the role of communicating externally how the “enclosed attributes” are designed to deliver a very complete and specific experience. A purpose brand is positioned on the mechanism that causes people to purchase a product: they nail the job. A purpose brand tells them to hire you for their job.

  • The reward for perfectly performing a job is not brand fame or brand love—though that may follow—but rather that customers will weave you into the fabric of their lives. Because purpose brands integrate around important Jobs to Be Done rather than conform to established bases of competition, purpose brands frequently reconfigure industry structure, change the basis of competition, and command premium prices.

  • Purpose brands provide remarkable clarity. They become synonymous with the job. A well-developed purpose brand will stop a consumer from even considering looking for another option. They want that product. The price premium that a purpose brand commands is the wage that customers are willing to pay the brand for providing this guidance.

  • Federal Express illustrates how successful purpose brands are built. A job had existed practically forever: the “I need to send this from here to there—as fast as possible with perfect certainty” job. Some US customers hired the US Postal Service’s airmail; a few desperate souls paid couriers to sit on airplanes. But because nobody had yet designed a service to do this job well, the brands of the unsatisfactory alternative services became tarnished when they were hired for this purpose. But after Federal Express specifically designed its service to do that exact job, and did it wonderfully again and again, the FedEx brand began popping into people’s minds. This was not built through advertising. It was built through people hiring the service and finding that it got the job done. FedEx became a purpose brand—in fact, it became a verb in the international language of business that is inextricably linked with that specific job.

  • A very long list of purpose brands, including Starbucks, Google, and craigslist.org, were actually built with minimal advertising at the outset. They’re such strong brands that they’ve become verbs: “Just Google it.” But they have been successful because each is associated with a clear purpose—they’ve been optimized around a clear Job to Be Done. These brands just pop into consumers’ minds when they have a Job to Be Done.

  • By the same token, brands that fail to integrate around a job risk becoming category placeholders—forced to compete on price, slugging it out with look-alike competitors. Just think airlines, automakers, business hotel chains, rental-car companies, or PC-clone manufacturers. Being called a “clone” can never be a good thing.

  • But it can be all too easy for an organization to lose its understanding of the power of a purpose brand when it falls into the bad habits of adding new benefits and features in the interest of creating marketplace “news” or justifying a price increase. For years, Volvo was the family car in my hometown. The distinctive, boxy cars were ubiquitous in the parking lots of schools, grocery stores, and baseball fields all across town. They may have cost more than other family car options and, let’s face it, they were unattractive—but they stood for something important: safety. As far back as its founding in 1927, its two original leaders set the compass directly on this purpose: “Cars are driven by people. The guiding principle behind everything we make at Volvo, therefore, is and must remain, safety.” And in the decades since then, the Swedish car company had earned its sterling reputation—as a purpose brand for safety and reliability. But after Ford purchased Volvo in 1999, it seemed to veer off that clear brand, creating flashier cars to try to compete with luxury standard vehicles. The result was not only a decline in sales—but an opening in the market for competitors’ cars to tout their own safety features. Volvo no longer owned that status. By 2005 it was no longer even profitable. The recession didn’t help. In 2010 Ford gave up on Volvo altogether, selling it at a substantial loss to Chinese carmaker Geely.

  • Purpose brand makes very clear which features and functions are relevant to the job and which potential improvements will ultimately prove irrelevant. A purpose brand is not solely valuable to the customer in making his choices. Purpose brands create enormous opportunities for differentiation, premium pricing, and growth. A clear purpose brand guides the company’s product designers, marketers, and advertisers as they develop and market improved products. As I’ll discuss in the next two chapters, having a Job to Be Done as a North Star helps guide an organization to design the right product and experiences to achieve that job—and not “overshoot” in a way that consumers won’t value.

  • Achieving a purpose brand is the cherry on the top of the jobs cake. Purpose brand, when done well, provides the ultimate competitive advantage. Look no further. Don’t even bother shopping for anything else. Just hire me and your job will be done.

  • After you’ve fully understood a customer’s job, the next step is to develop a solution that perfectly solves it. And because a job has a richness and complexity to it, your solution must, too. The specific details of the job, and the corresponding details of your solution, are critically important to ensure a successful innovation.

  • You can capture the relevant details of the job in a job spec, which includes the functional, emotional, and social dimensions that define the desired progress; the tradeoffs the customer is willing to make; the full set of competing solutions that must be beaten; and the obstacles and anxieties that must be overcome. The job spec becomes the blueprint that translates all the richness and complexity of the job into an actionable guide for innovation.

  • Complete solutions to jobs must include not only your core product or service, but also carefully designed experiences of purchase and use that overcome any obstacles a customer might face in hiring your solution and firing another. This means that ultimately all successful solutions to jobs can be thought of as services, even for product companies.

  • If you can successfully nail the job, over time you can transform your company’s brand into a purpose brand, one that customers automatically associate with the successful resolution of their most important jobs. A purpose brand provides a clear guide to the outside world as to what your company represents and a clear guide to your employees that can guide their decisions and behavior.

  • Questions for Leaders
    • What are the most critical details that must be included in the job spec for your target job? Do you understand the obstacles that get in customers’ way? Do your current solutions address all these details
    • What are the experiences of purchase and use that your customers currently have? How well do these align with the requirements of their complete job spec? Where are there opportunities to improve them?
  • Organizations typically structure themselves around function or business unit or geography—but successful growth companies optimize around the job. Competitive advantage is conferred through an organization’s unique processes: the ways it integrates across functions to perform the customer’s job.

  • Unlike the situation at a traditional hospital, the Mayo Clinic puts somebody in charge of the process. So, for example, when someone like me comes for a diagnostic visit, that person thinks about all the medical specialties that are involved, which are most likely to have the best insight, and in what order I’d be likely to need to see them. That process person will set up the appointments—sometimes in real time—for me to see all the right specialists while I’m there in that one visit. Every specialist is required to keep openings in the day to accommodate real-time needs. The person in charge of my visit took all the burden of figuring out who I needed to see, what data they’d need for that appointment, which groups of specialists needed to talk to me together, and so on. She made it her problem to move me seamlessly through the day. So as I was barely getting through the day in my pain, someone else was making sure that if I had to see a certain specialist at 2:00 in the afternoon, my MRI was completed by 11:30 at the latest. Whatever anxieties I might have had navigating that visit—“Will I see everyone today? Is it going to take two months for a follow-up? Does my insurance cover this extra appointment?” and so on—were eliminated before they could even form into a thought in my mind. On the surface, the Mayo Clinic is organized around the specialties of the doctors, like many other health organizations. But really, the main organizing principle is a process to get the right things in the right sequence to get the job done. When you think of the word “process” you might instantly conjure images of a manufacturing assembly line or a bureaucratic standard. But processes touch everything about the way an organization transforms its resources into value: the patterns of interaction, coordination, communication, and decision making through which they accomplish these transformations are processes. Product development, procurement, market research, budgeting, employee development and compensation, and resource allocation are all accomplished through processes. Helping customers have a delightful experience using your product is made up of processes. What information do we need to have in order to decide what to do next? Who is responsible for each step? What do we prioritize over other things? Resources, generally speaking, are fungible. They can be bought and sold. Products can, often, be easily copied. But it is through integrating processes to get the job done that companies can create the ideal experiences and confer competitive advantage. By contrast to my experience at the Mayo Clinic, in a traditional hospital, there would be a personal-care physician to coordinate my care. He would coordinate it, with the best of intentions, so that every patient has a different experience. But that’s different than having a deliberate process. The hospital wants to help everybody so badly, but that help comes in an ad hoc way: everyone goes through a different sequence of who they see when. So, for example, whenever there appears to be something going on at the confluence of two different pathways in my body, it can take months, and a series of separate appointments, before I can get the two right specialists in the room together. It is clear, from my personal experience, that it is much easier and faster for good doctors to get answers when they work at the Mayo than when they work in a traditional hospital setting.

  • Processes are invisible from a customer’s standpoint—but the results of those processes are not. Processes can profoundly affect whether a customer chooses your product or service in the long run. And they may be a company’s best bet to ensure that the customer’s job, and not efficiency or productivity, remains the focal point for innovation in the long run. Absence of a process, as is the case with most traditional hospitals, is actually still a process. Things are getting done, however chaotically. But that’s not a good sign. W. Edwards Deming, father of the quality movement, may have put it best: “If you can’t describe what you are doing as a process, then you don’t know what you are doing.”

  • For years, Toyota freely opened its doors to competitors. Twice a month, the Japanese auto manufacturer allowed rival auto executives and engineers into its manufacturing complex to observe how Toyota makes cars. Not only were the executives allowed to see every aspect of the famous Toyota Production System, the tours also included a robust question and answer session. Nothing was off-limits. To an outsider, Toyota’s openness might seem shocking. After all, the American rivals were clearly trying to learn Toyota’s secrets in order to emulate or even improve upon them. Why would Toyota so willingly give competitors a hand? Toyota wasn’t really worried that it would give away its “secret sauce.” Toyota’s competitive advantage rested firmly in its proprietary, complex, and often unspoken processes. In hindsight, Ernie Schaefer, a longtime GM manager who toured the Toyota plant, told NPR’s This American Life that he realized that there were no special secrets to see on the manufacturing floors. “You know, they never prohibited us from walking through the plant, understanding, even asking questions of some of their key people,” Schaefer said. “I’ve often puzzled over that, why they did that. And I think they recognized we were asking the wrong questions. We didn’t understand this bigger picture.” It’s no surprise, really. Processes are often hard to see—they’re a combination of both formal, defined, and documented steps and expectations and informal, habitual routines or ways of working that have evolved over time. But they matter profoundly. As MIT’s Edgar Schein has explored and discussed, processes are a critical part of the unspoken culture of an organization. They enforce “this is what matters most to us.”

  • Processes are intangible; they belong to the company. They emerge from hundreds and hundreds of small decisions about how to solve a problem. They’re critical to strategy, but they also can’t easily be copied. Pixar Animation Studios, too, has openly shared its creative process with the world. Pixar’s longtime president Ed Catmull has literally written the book on how the digital film company fosters collective creativity—there are fixed processes about how a movie idea is generated, critiqued, improved, and perfected. Yet Pixar’s competitors have yet to equal Pixar’s successes.

  • Like Toyota, Southern New Hampshire University has been open with would-be competitors, regularly offering tours and visits to other educational institutions. As President Paul LeBlanc sees it, competition is always possible from well-financed organizations with more powerful brand recognition. But those assets alone aren’t enough to give them a leg up. SNHU has taken years to craft and integrate the right experiences and processes for its students and they would be exceedingly difficult for a would-be competitor to copy. SNHU did not invent all its tactics for recruiting and serving its online students. It borrowed from some of the best practices of the for-profit educational sector. But what it’s done with laser focus is to ensure that all its processes—hundreds and hundreds of individual “this is how we do it” processes—focus specifically on how to best respond to the job students are hiring it for. “We think we have advantages by ‘owning’ these processes internally,” LeBlanc says, “and some of that is tied to our culture and passion for students.”

  • Unlike resources, which are easily measured, processes can’t be seen on a balance sheet. If a company has strong processes in place, managers have flexibility about which employees they put on which assignments—because the process will work regardless of who performs it. Take, for example, consulting firm McKinsey & Company, which is hired to help companies around the world. McKinsey’s processes are so pervasive that consultants from very different backgrounds and training can be “plugged” into the processes by which they habitually do their work—with confidence that they will deliver the needed results. They can also churn the resources—the consultants—every few years without fear of diminution of quality because their processes are so robust.

  • Putting Jobs to Be Done at the center of your process changes everything about what an organization optimizes for. Before refocusing around jobs, for example, SNHU would have measured success in responding to prospective student inquiries in terms of weeks. “How many packages got mailed out?” SNHU would then wait for interested students to follow up with a call. If they did, SNHU would ask them to chase down their historic transcripts to get to the next phase of consideration. And so on. The impetus for the process was left in the hands of the prospective student. SNHU simply responded. By traditional measures, the “cost” of acquiring that prospective student was relatively low and it was easy to staff an office that simply mailed out packages of information.

  • By contrast, SNHU now tracks response time in minutes. The goal is to call back in under ten minutes. While on the phone with a trained admissions representative, the prospect will be asked to give permission to chase down existing transcripts—and SNHU will pay the usual ten-dollar fee incurred to do that. Success is now measured in whether the university can come back to the prospect with transfer-credit determination and all other necessary information in a matter of days. But it’s far, far more successful because it’s focused around the prospective student’s Job to Be Done. Talking to a live human being, within minutes or hours, is a completely different experience from arriving home after a long, hard day at work to find a big white envelope nestled among the junk. The real payoff for SNHU is in successful acquisitions. If prospective students believe SNHU fulfills their Job to Be Done, they’ll stop shopping around—and gladly pay a premium price for the solution that best solves their job.

  • There’s another important lesson in the story of SNHU’s success: it systematically removes the complexity and frustrations from the prospective student—such as navigating the financial-aid process and tracking down transcripts—and resolves them through the structured processes of SNHU. This is what processes aligned with customer jobs do: they shift complexity and nuisances from the customer to the vendor, leaving positive customer experiences and valuable progress in their place.

  • Without the clear job spec of SNHU’s students’ Jobs to Be Done, the university would never create such a high-intensity process, but nor would it be as productive. Nor would any standard operating data suggest it should. SNHU’s old system might have generated, for example, the number of information packages sent out compared with the number of new student applications. But nothing about that ratio would tell the university why that number is good or bad. By contrast, the right job spec leads to the right processes that will generate the right data to know “How are we doing?” Jobs Theory focuses you on helping your customers do their jobs, rather than narrow internally measured efficiencies.

  • It’s the rare exception that a senior executive visiting my office isn’t in the midst of some kind of corporate reorganization—or complaining that it’s time for another one. What’s striking to me is that these reorgs are not rare, they are remarkably common and in many companies have almost become a routine part of the business cycle: every three to four years a new wave of changes affecting job responsibilities, reporting lines, spheres of authority, P&L ownership, and decision rights—just to name a few dimensions of change—rips through many major companies promising a better future. More often than not, though, these painful restructurings fail to deliver desired results. A 2010 Bain & Company study reported that fewer than one-third of major reorgs reviewed delivered any material improvement and many actually destroyed value. Why would managers ever put themselves through the hardships and hassles and endless meetings and conference calls—not to mention opportunity costs—endemic to reorgs? There’s clearly a widespread dissatisfaction with current performance.

  • Jobs Theory suggests that all this effort is focused on the wrong things. You don’t have to sit through many board meetings or strategic planning sessions or acquisition-integration meetings to determine that the focus of most organizational restructurings are the boxes and lines on the org chart, signifying defined roles and reporting lines. Of course it’s necessary to have an organizational structure that helps navigate the complexity of running a business. You need experts in finance and marketing and customer service and so on, and you need a way to organize reporting lines and P&L responsibility. But there’s something critical missing in these discussions.

  • Through a jobs lens, what matters more than who reports to whom is how different parts of the organization interact to systematically deliver the offering that perfectly performs customers’ Jobs to Be Done. When managers are focused on the customer’s Job to Be Done, they not only have a very clear compass heading for their innovation efforts but they also have a vital organizing principle for their internal structure. This is not a subtle distinction. We have managers in charge of every major function or set of activities. We have executives in charge of product lines. But in most cases, nobody is in charge of understanding—and ensuring that the company is delivering on—the job of a customer. It’s only through predictable, repeatable processes that organizations can fully integrate around a customer’s Job to Be Done.

  • Intensive care medicine offers a perfect example. In 1952 surgical pioneer Dwight Harken (who also happens to be the grandfather of coauthor Taddy Hall) noted that, while patients were routinely surviving increasingly complex surgical procedures, alarming numbers were dying in post-op recovery because patients were simply transferred from the surgical theater back to the general wards. There simply was no set of processes to ensure that fragile patients in critical care would receive the array of interventions required for survival. In short, the critical-care job had no owner within any one of the hospital’s established medical functions. The radical question Harken asked himself was, “How is it that everyone’s doing what they’re supposed to be doing, all of the hospital’s existing processes are functioning as designed—yet patients are dying?” Something wasn’t right. In posing the question, Harken created the space in his mind to continue to seek and find the answer. His ensuing insight enabled him to pioneer the concept of intensive care medicine as we know it, leading to the now ubiquitous intensive care unit that we’ve come to take for granted. This was only possible by the realization that the hospital’s preexisting processes were failing to deliver desired patient experiences—in this case, successful surgical recovery and survival.

  • My colleague at Harvard Business School, Ethan Bernstein, spent two years away from HBS working with Elizabeth Warren to set up the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) in the aftermath of the financial crisis. Armed with Jobs Theory, he made a conscious choice to try to avoid the org chart trap. The promise of the CFPB was to bring the tools and authorities into one place so that the fragmentation of responsibilities that some believed allowed the financial crisis to go uncorrected would not continue into the future. The focus of the CFPB was around consumers’ Job to Be Done—in essence, to “know before they owe”—but Bernstein and the CFPB Implementation Team took it a step further, consciously designing the organization structure of the bureau to support that job. “It just seemed natural,” Bernstein says now. “Instead of seeing divisions, we saw Jobs to Be Done.” With a clear Job to Be Done for consumers who had been badly burned in the financial crisis at its center, it became clear that some of the typical DC functional silos didn’t make sense for the CFPB. Research, markets, and regulations were organized in a single division. Supervision, enforcement, and fair lending in another. In a typical regulatory structure, these groups would have all had slightly different—and occasionally conflicting—missions. Enforcement, for example, is all about punishing the bad guys and repairing the past. Supervision, by contrast, might focus on preempting future problems by forming close relationships with those being supervised. Traditionally, that represented not only very different approaches, but also very different processes. But put into the same division, people with very different backgrounds, career tracks, and world views were aligned around a similar job: prevention of future consumer financial issues and restitution of past ones. “The organizational structure, and the collaboration processes we put in place helped to create co-identification with professional identities and the CFPB’s Job to Be Done,” Bernstein says. For example, the CFPB’s policy committee, comprising senior levels of staff from across the entire bureau, met once a week for two hours. That conversation, Bernstein says, was entirely focused on one of the organization’s Jobs to Be Done and what tools were going to be used over time to understand and address it. The meeting was run, perhaps not surprisingly considering Elizabeth Warren’s background as a Harvard professor, more or less like a Socratic law school class. The conversation focused on the organization’s Job to Be Done, but everyone was invited to bring their expertise and opinions on how best to solve it with the issues at hand that week. “If you don’t have that focus,” Bernstein recalls, “then you start falling into individual opinions and politics. The organization thrived in the early days because we brought in all kinds of people—consumer advocates, Wall Street veterans, other government agency staff. But everyone in that room had scars. If you didn’t focus around a Job to Be Done, then you focused on the scars. You’d just sit there and argue with each other and get nothing done. Solving a job was our unifying cause. Our reason for being. It was easy to rally around that. And we got action, rather than typical DC paralysis, as a result.” Jobs Theory provided a diverse team with a language of integration, enabling diverse functional specialties to communicate and interact to fulfill the ultimate purpose of the CFPB.

  • Jobs Theory changes not only what you optimize your processes to do, but also how you measure their success. It shifts the critical performance criteria from internal financial-performance metrics to externally relevant customer-benefit metrics. SNHU tracks how many minutes it takes to respond to an inquiry, for example, because it realizes that time is critical to the process of its online prospects. Amazon focuses on when orders are delivered not when they are shipped. For each new product, Intuit develops a unique set of performance metrics based on the specific customer benefit that the specific Intuit solution delivers.

  • Keeping what matters in focus is challenging for any organization, especially with the forces at play as a company grows. “Now that we’re a much larger company, it’s been a challenge to keep the various parts of the company focused on the customer benefit,” says Intuit founder Scott Cook. “It’s so tempting for parts of the organization to start looking at other things. In our kind of business, you get all this data about ‘conversions’ and ‘retention,’ and so on. We got seduced by that.” It is, to be sure, easier to focus on efficiency rather than effectiveness. Most businesses are very, very good at that. Creating the right metrics is hard. But so important. For example, Cook recounts, as Intuit was rolling out a new version of QuickBooks for small businesses, the sales organization suggested that trial users be forced to register before they could access and test the product. “Why not force them to call us? That way we can sell them more stuff,” Cook says. “Buy our payroll service!” On the surface, testing suggested it could be the source of immediate new revenue for Intuit. So the company set up an internal process to field the registration calls and try to upsell them more services. “But it turns out, we made it hard for customers to register. Now they had to call us. Sometimes the line was busy. They had to talk to a salesperson when really they just wanted to register. People got focused on revenue instead of delivering the customer benefit.” But that line revenue number, Cook says, can be deceiving. Yes, maybe Intuit converted some of those callers to other products or services. New revenue. But that number doesn’t take into account how much of that revenue Intuit might have gotten anyway if it had focused better on solving customers’ jobs, rather than the jobs of salespeople to generate new sources of revenue. If Intuit wanted to accurately measure how well the company was responding to customers’ Jobs to Be Done, it needed to find new ways to think about it. How much time did we save this customer? Did we allow them to not spend time doing something they didn’t want to do? Did we improve their cash flow? Are our processes supporting the things customers are hiring us to do? But measuring the success in achieving these goals is not easy, Cook admits. “This is hard stuff in our business. The metrics don’t fall out of our systems. There is no way to continuously and automatically measure the labor hours avoided by accountants. We have to interpolate survey and server data,” Cook says. “Because without it we just don’t know how we’re doing on the job the customer wants done.”

  • Having the right measurements in place helps institutionalize a process. It’s how your employees know they’re doing the right thing, making the right choices. As the old saying goes, “What gets measured, gets done.” From its inception, Amazon has laser-focused on three things that solve customers’ jobs—vast selection, low prices, and fast delivery—and designed processes to deliver them. Those processes include measuring and monitoring how it’s achieving those three ultimate goals on a minute-by-minute basis. The end goal is getting the customers’ jobs done—everything works backward from there. “We always start with the customers and look at all the metrics that matter for the customer,” explains Amazon’s senior vice president for international retail Diego Piacentini.

  • Think about the signal sent by this simple line on every Amazon product page, for example: “If you order within the next 2 hours and 32 minutes, you’ll receive your product Tuesday.” But hundreds of processes have been designed to ensure that happens. The customer’s click of the “checkout” button triggers a series of processes that extend all the way to the fulfillment center or to the vendor. Amazon then tracks and measures if it meets its promise. Did it arrive tomorrow, as promised?

  • Process acts as a sort of the subconscious of an organization—it subtly pushes companies toward or away from a Jobs to Be Done–aligned strategy by governing thousands of decentralized events, decisions, and interactions each day. “We’re much more focused on processes than organization,” says Piacentini. “It’s one of the reasons we can move fast. We have the same technology, the same platform, the same guiding principles across all of our companies.” New innovations at Amazon famously start with a mock “press release” that is presented to the team that will consider and work on that innovation. The press release contains the guiding principles for that innovation—all experiences and processes are derived from the clarity of what job customers will hire this product or service to do, as outlined in the press release at the innovation kickoff meeting. In that room are not just marketing people, but engineers, analysts, and so on—everyone whose work will play a role in fulfilling that Job to Be Done. “It all starts with that press release,” Piacentini says. “No matter who owns the pieces of the product, you’re part of that process.” The textbook definition tells us that process optimization relates to efficiency. But what Jobs Theory—and Amazon’s example—says is, “Yes, but . . .” The “but” is that optimization should also incorporate a factor for job alignment—otherwise you’re focusing on getting better and better at the wrong things. There is a second very important lesson in the Amazon story: there is a degree of ambidextrousness that enables processes to be both highly efficient and flexible. Jobs are not flexible—they have existed for years and years, even centuries. But how we solve for jobs varies over time. The important thing is to be attached to the job, but not the way we solve it today. Processes must flex over time when a better understanding of customer jobs calls for a revised orientation. Otherwise you’ll risk changing the concept of the job to fit the process, rather than the other way around. Interestingly, this principle of a modular internal-process structure in which some pieces persist and others change is fundamental to what computer coders know as subroutines. The idea is that repeated functions—say basic arithmetic and trigonometry, for example—can be coded as subroutines and then essentially copied and pasted wherever that operation is called for in a different process. In programming, this is a very big deal. The right use of subroutines will decrease the cost of developing and maintaining a program, while simultaneously improving its quality and reliability. Solutions to common challenges are not invented ad hoc by programmer X or Y sitting at a desk in the basement. They’re universal, logical, and easily inserted in the right places. Amazon has imported what are essentially subroutines into its operating processes, too, and their power and efficiency are very apparent. This is a huge advance over the traditional practice of “sharing best practices” across regions. Instead, the use of subroutines poses the question of “Are we likely to need to repeat this process (or subroutine) in other activities?” This creates a very dynamic view of an organization as a collection of processes wherein each process is a string of subroutines—some custom and some modular imports—that align perfectly with a customer’s Job to Be Done.

  • Aligning with jobs is considering what “process optimization” means. In so doing, you avoid the trap of allowing today’s critical processes to become tomorrow’s inhibitors to growth.

  • When processes are not aligned with a compelling customer job, optimizing the process means getting better and better at doing the wrong thing. There’s a reason that the fast-food company didn’t implement the changes that Moesta and his colleagues recommended to boost milk shake sales. It may have been a great idea, but the organization’s “immune system” rejected it out of hand. Local managers deemed the required changes in their routine processes and resource allocations too difficult to implement and the idea died a quiet death. Many smart companies unwittingly undermine their own great ideas with hidebound processes. This is a good thing when the processes are perfectly aligned with the Job to Be Done. Introducing new processes to an established organization is very, very hard. Often the solutions you must deliver seem impractical from a financial perspective or cumbersome from a cultural perspective. As I’ll discuss in the next chapter, even the most perfectly constructed experiences and processes are vulnerable to powerful forces within a company. The gravitational pull of existing process is very, very strong. But forewarned is forearmed. In the next chapter we will focus on how to ensure that your processes align with the Job to Be Done and deliver results for both your customers and your shareholders

  • The key to successful innovation is to create and deliver the set of experiences corresponding to your customer’s job spec. To do this consistently, a company needs to develop and integrate the right set of processes that deliver these experiences. Doing so can yield a powerful source of competitive advantage that is very difficult for others to copy.

  • Despite the value of developing a set of processes integrated around the customer’s job, it does not come naturally to most companies. Processes abound in all companies, of course, but in most cases they are aimed at improving efficiency or achieving a narrow outcome within a specific function. Delivering a complete set of experiences to nail the job usually requires that new processes be deliberately defined, and new mechanisms put in place to coordinate functions that are usually siloed.

  • A powerful lever to drive job-centric process development and integration is to measure and manage to new metrics aligned with nailing the customer’s job. Managers should ask what elements of the experience are the most critical to the customer, and define metrics that track performance against them.

  • Most organizations do not have one person who is the “steward” ensuring the company consistently delivers against the customer’s job. Traditional organizational structures and siloes do have value and are likely to endure, and large-scale reorgs are not usually practical. Therefore, the best way to move toward a more jobs-centric organization is to carefully set up and integrate the right processes, measure the right things, and over time embed jobs centricity in the culture.

  • How you solve for a customer’s job will inevitably change over time; you need to build in flexibility to your processes, to allow them to continuously adapt and improve the experiences you deliver.

  • Questions for Leaders
    • How does your organization ensure that the customer’s job guides all critical decisions related to product development, marketing, and customer service?
    • Do the different functions that are part of your customer’s experience (for example, your product, service, marketing, sales, after-sale service) all support nailing your customer’s job in a coordinated, integrated way, or are they in conflict?
    • What new processes could you define to ensure more integrated delivery of the experiences required by your customers’ jobs?
    • What elements of the end-to-end experience are most critical to perfectly solving your customer’s job? What metrics could you define to track performance against these elements?
  • The day a product becomes real and hits the market, everything changes for managers. There’s so much pressure to grow that it’s possible to lose sight of why customers hired you in the first place. Even great companies can veer off course in nailing the job for their customers—and focus on nailing a job for themselves. In our research and experience, that happens because companies fall into believing three fallacies about the data they generate about their products: The Fallacy of Active Versus Passive Data, The Fallacy of Surface Growth, and The Fallacy of Conforming Data.

  • After companies have successfully launched, something shifts. Even in some of the best companies, the Job to Be Done that brought them success in the first place can somehow get lost in the shuffle of running and growing the business. They define themselves in terms of products, not jobs

  • The day a product becomes real and hits the market, everything changes for managers. There’s so much pressure to grow that it’s possible to lose sight of why customers hired you in the first place. Even great companies can veer off course in nailing the job for their customers—and focus on nailing a job for themselves. In our research and experience, that happens because companies fall into believing three fallacies about the data they generate about their products: The Fallacy of Active Versus Passive Data, The Fallacy of Surface Growth, and The Fallacy of Conforming Data

  • Even great companies veer off course in nailing the job for their customers and focus instead on nailing the job for themselves. In our research and experience, that’s because companies fall into believing one of three fallacies:
    • The Fallacy of Active Versus Passive Data
    • The Fallacy of Surface Growth
    • The Fallacy of Conforming Data
  • Ted Levitt pointed out in the pages of Harvard Business Review decades ago, the railroad industry did not decline because the need for passenger and freight transportation declined. That need actually grew, but cars, trucks, airplanes, and even telephones stepped in to handle that job nicely. The railroads were in trouble, Levitt wrote back in 1960, “because they assumed themselves to be in the railroad business rather than in the transportation business.” In other words, the railroads fell into the trap of letting the product define the market they were in, rather than the job customers were hiring them to do. They organized and tracked and measured themselves as if they were in the business of selling drills, not quarter-inch holes. Many successful start-ups do start out selling quarter-inch holes. The original kernel of the idea for Netflix was uncovered the way many start-ups gain traction: an entrepreneur found himself in a circumstance with no clear solution and declared, “I’m going to fix this!” In a sense, he began both as the CEO and a target customer—there was no separation between the innovator and his customer’s job. Much of the information needed to make decisions about solving for a job is found in the context of the struggle. We call that “passive data” because it has no voice or clear structure or champion or agenda. Passive data, by itself, doesn’t tell us what is going on in the world because the Job to Be Done doesn’t change much. Passive data is just unfiltered context. It’s always present, but it isn’t loud. In discovering an unfilled or poorly done job, managers are surrounded by nonconsumption and workarounds. They are immersed in the passive data of context. Familiar marketplace markers such as product sales, quality standards, and competitive benchmarks are all missing. Instead, signposts of innovation opportunity take the form of individual customers’ frustrations and undesirable tradeoffs and experiences. Making meaning out of the jumble of real-life experiences is not about tabulating data but about assembling the narrative that reveals the Job to Be Done. Innovators have to immerse themselves in the messy context of real life to figure out what potentially successful new products might offer to customers. In the early stage, managers are puzzle solvers, not number crunchers. Passive data does not broadcast itself loudly. You have to seek it out, put clues together, relentlessly ask why? But it’s critically important because it is the way to identify innovation opportunities. Here’s how the trouble starts: managers by their very nature respond to information—and negative information, in particular, causes them to respond quickly. We can predict, however, that, as soon as a Job to Be Done becomes a commercial product, the context-rich view of the job begins to recede as the active data of operations replaces and displaces the passive data of innovation. Once products are launched, a faucet is opened and data is created, data that didn’t exist until sales had been made and customers created. Managers feel an understandable sense of reassurance when they shift their attention from the hazy contours of a story of struggle to the crisp precision of a spreadsheet. And this switch happens organically and with little fanfare. Product sales generate data about products: how many, how profitable, and which ones, etc. Customers’ purchases generate data about customers themselves: business or consumer, large or small, wealthy or not-so-much, direct or via sales channel, local or far-flung, etc. Investments in people, facilities, and technology generate data on their productivity, returns, and value. Competitors emerge, leading investors and managers to create benchmarks that make data. This data, as it turns out, is very loud. It shouts at you to focus on it and prioritize it and improve it. It’s easy to track and measure and is usually seen as a proxy for how well the manager is doing his job. This is a subtle but transformational shift in perspective, and it feels good to migrate from the unstructured messiness of passive data to the reassuringly concrete active data. But what feels like progress can prove to be poison if it leads managers to mistake the model of reality that active data offers for the real world.5 Data is always an abstraction of reality based on underlying assumptions as to how to categorize the unstructured phenomena of the real world. Too often, managers conveniently set this knowledge aside: data is man-made.

  • As data about operations broadcasts itself loudly and clearly, it’s all too easy—especially as the filtering layers of an organization increase—for managers to start managing the numbers instead of the job. A great illustration of this is the way public schools in America teach so their students will pass the requisite tests because the government depends on schools hitting certain measured standards. Or in medicine, consider how doctors often treat symptoms, rather than getting to the cause of the problem. High blood pressure, for example, is a symptom of several different diseases. But most drugs for people who struggle with high blood pressure focus on getting those numbers down, rather than curing what’s causing them in the first place.

  • Companies do this, too. They manage the numbers. Think about the correlation between earnings per share and the price of your shares in the market. If a company goes into the market and repurchases some of its own shares, it can improve the earnings per share and the stock price often goes up. But it’s done absolutely nothing to make the company more innovative or more efficient. The number went up. Period.

  • The Fallacy of Surface Growth: When a company makes big investments in developing relationships with customers, natural incentives arise to find ways to sell more products to existing customers. The marginal cost of selling more products to existing customers is very small—and the profit is oh so alluring. We call this “surface growth.” Companies see products all around them made by other companies and decide to copy or acquire them. But in doing so, companies often end up trying to create many products for many customers—and lose focus on the job that brought them success in the first place.7 Worse, trying to do many jobs for many customers can confuse customers so they hire the wrong products for the wrong jobs and end up firing them in frustration instead. This makes companies vulnerable to disrupters who focus on a single job—and do it well. The same incentives and logic apply to investments in production capabilities, intellectual property, and talent. Once these costs are sunk, the pressure to “sweat the assets” is ever present and, especially with “what have you done for me lately” shareholders, relentless. The New York Times offers a good illustration. There are two customers who matter to the Times: readers and advertisers. In the case of readers, there are lots of jobs that arise in their world—and the Times tries to do more and more jobs for the same set of customers. For example:
    • Help readers unwind at the end of the day.
    • Provide readers with up-to-date news.
    • Help readers become informed.
    • Help readers fill their time productively.
  • But with each additional job that the Times solves, it finds itself up against a competitor who focuses only on that job—and does it very well. The Economist is a great way to feel informed with one weekly briefing, rather than having to spend time on getting informed every day. Nothing’s simpler than turning on the television to relax in the evening—with many more choices about what you want to watch. The Metro newspaper that readers get for free on the subway helps readers fill their time productively on their commute, and so on. Suddenly the Times has a handful of competitors—in addition to other mainstream media—who are solving its customers’ jobs better than the Times can. It’s no surprise that so many newspapers have found themselves struggling to survive in recent years. They weren’t focused around a job. By contrast, Deseret News Publishing Company, which I’ll discuss in depth in the next chapter, has staged a stunning turnaround by reorienting its traditional newspaper along a very distinct Job to Be Done.

  • The Fallacy of Conforming Data: The Fallacy of Conforming Data is the third fallacy that causes companies to lose their focus on the customers’ Job to Be Done. Data has an annoying way of conforming itself to support whatever point of view we want it to support. In fact, Nate Silver, a well-known statistician and founder of the New York Times political blog FiveThirtyEight (it was acquired by ESPN in 2013), noted, “The most calamitous failures of prediction usually have a lot in common. We focus on those signals that tell a story about the world as we would like it to be, not how it really is.”8 We don’t realize this, we don’t mean for it to happen, but it is an unfortunate frailty of the human brain.

  • Psychologists have explained that when we hold conflicting ideas or beliefs in our minds, this “dissonance” produces reactions of stress and anxiety that we naturally seek to minimize and avoid. Uncomfortable truths are just that—uncomfortable. As data comes in, it’s not that we lose objectivity—we never had it to begin with. I can’t help but think of every parent-teacher conference I ever attended—my wife and I would always leave the room with totally different perspectives on what we just heard. I heard, I’m sure, the things that confirmed my expectations. My wife, I suspect, heard something closer to what the teacher actually said. We make the data and the messages conform to what we believe.

  • So often, companies are blindsided by a competitor’s innovation or what turns out to be a missed opportunity. “Why didn’t we see that coming??” The truth is, you had no chance of seeing it because you weren’t looking for it. In the words of Sherlock Holmes, “There is nothing more deceptive than the obvious fact.”

  • Does this sound familiar? Your sales, marketing, and R&D teams are all in the same room with the business-unit head, discussing where to focus innovation resources. The sales team is sure it knows what customers want because it’s constantly talking to its customers about their most pressing needs. The marketing team has reams of ideas for leveraging the existing brand, perhaps by offering new versions, new flavors, new colors, or special offers. The R&D team is excited about new features and benefits it’s working on, driven by cool new technologies or applications. And the head of the business is relentlessly focused on getting things into the market that have a shot at helping the P&L by the end of the year. Needless to say, each team comes armed with carefully constructed supporting data that offers a model of reality through the lens of its functional responsibilities, performance metrics, and financial incentives. All the teams are working with a kind of confirmation bias—seeing only the information that tends to support their point of view. None of these perspectives is wrong, but the point is that none is truly objective. And more important, not one of the models reflects the customers’ job.

  • We pick and choose the data that suits us. “Decisions don’t get made. They happen,” observes neuromarketing expert, Gerald Zaltman, a longtime colleague at Harvard Business School who has spent years studying how managers represent their ideas and apply their ideas and knowledge. Among the common mistakes he’s identified? “The tendency to treat facts as insights and leap directly from data to action,” Zaltman recently wrote in the Journal of Advertising Research. “It is common when research is used to prove points rather than as fuel for imaginative insight.”. In fact, Zaltman says, we often kid ourselves about just how objective our decisions are. “It might look like a leader has made a big decision—A versus B—when in fact, in all the layers that led up to that decision, the data has been increasingly skewed toward A. A leader may think they’ve made a leap of faith based on clear data, but in reality, it’s already been kind of pre-ordained.” Innovations get skewed to do the jobs that executives want them to do—which is to confirm that the customers want to buy the products that the managers want to sell them.

  • There’s an even more fundamental problem with data. Many people view numerical data as more trustworthy than qualitative data. But where does “objective” data come from? The data used in many research projects comes from companies’ financial statements, for example. Is this objective? H. Thomas Johnson and Robert S. Kaplan showed quite convincingly that the numbers representing revenues, costs, and profits in financial statements are the result of processes of estimation, negotiation, debate, and politics in allocating overhead costs that can produce grossly inaccurate reflections of true cost and profit.

  • The healthiest mindset for innovation is that nearly all data—whether presented in the form of a large quantitative data set on one extreme, or an ethnographic description of behavior on the other—is built upon human bias and judgment. Numerical and verbal data alike are abstractions from a much more complex reality, out of which a researcher attempts to pull the most salient variables or patterns for examination. Whereas the subjectivity of data from field-based, ethnographic research is glaringly apparent, the subjective bias of numerical data hides behind its superficial precision. Tom Monahan, who built practice-insight and technology company CEB into a billion-dollar publicly traded company, joked with me that with his earnings one of his dreams is to endow the Museum of False Precision. It promises to boast a well-stocked collection.

  • Data is not the phenomena. The primary function of data is to represent the phenomena—to create a simulation of reality. But there is a misconception about data that is so prevalent it’s tacitly embedded in many organizations—the idea that only quantitative data is objective. There’s a pervasive belief that there is some set of ideal data that can, together, yield the perfect insights about customers. It’s just a matter of figuring what the right data is. In short, we can know “truth” if we just gather the right data in quantitative form, the kind of information that can be fed into a spreadsheet or regression analysis. How many? What? Where? Who? When? By contrast, qualitative data—observations and insights that don’t fit neatly into a spreadsheet to be sliced and diced—is not as reliable as quantitative, because there’s no single “truth” at the core. Quantitative data, the thinking goes, is somehow better. But that’s not correct. Deity does not create data and then bestow it upon mankind. All data is man-made. Somebody, at some point, decided what data to collect, how to organize it, how to present it, and how to infer meaning from it—and it embeds all kinds of false rigor into the process. Data has the same agenda as the person who created it, wittingly or unwittingly. For all the time that senior leaders spend analyzing data, they should be making equal investments to determine what data should be created in the first place. What dimensions of the phenomena should we collect data on and what dimensions of the phenomena should we ignore?

  • The origin story of most companies typically involves an entrepreneur identifying an important job that does not have an existing satisfactory solution, and developing a creative way to solve it. As a company grows up, however, it’s very common for it to lose focus on the job that sparked its existence in the first place. Despite the best intentions and a century of marketing wisdom, companies start to act as if their business is defined by the products and services they sell (“quarter-inch drills”) instead of the jobs that they solve (“quarter-inch holes”).

  • While there are many drivers of this drift away from the true north of the customer’s job, foremost among them is the tendency of managers to fall prey to the Three Fallacies of Innovation Data:
    • The Fallacy of Active Data Versus Passive Data: Instead of staying cognizant of and focused on the type of data that characterizes the rich complexity of the job (passive data), growing companies start to generate operations-related data (active data), which can seduce managers with its apparent objectivity and rigor but which tends to organize itself around products and customer characteristics, rather than Jobs to Be Done.
    • The Fallacy of Surface Growth: As companies make big investments in customer relationships, they focus their energies on driving growth through selling additional products to those customers or solving a broader set of their jobs, what we call surface growth—as opposed to staying focused on solving the core job better.
    • The Fallacy of Conforming Data: Managers focus on generating data that conforms to their preexisting business models.
  • Awareness of these fallacies is the first step toward preventing them from taking over innovation in a company, but doing so on an ongoing basis requires constant vigilance and intervention.

  • Questions for Leaders
    • How connected are your innovation efforts to the core jobs your company was started to solve?
    • How would your people characterize the fundamental business you are in? Would they describe it in terms of solving an important job in their customers’ lives, or in terms of the products and services you offer?
    • What data drives your innovation and investment decisions? How closely connected is this data to your customers’ jobs?
    • Are you falling prey to the Fallacy of Surface Growth, that is, are you overly focused on driving growth through selling new products to existing customers without an understanding of the progress customers are trying to make in their lives?
    • What data is gathered and presented to make important innovation and investment decisions? What mechanisms do you have in place to ensure that this data reveals what you need to see, rather than what is comforting to believe?
    • How are you ensuring that your customers’ Job to Be Done has a voice in your decision making and resource allocation activities?
  • Many companies have lofty mission statements with a variety of intentions from motivating workers to informing strategies to attracting investors, but almost as many companies struggle to translate these mission statements into everyday behaviors. However, when the job has a voice in an organization, individual work streams have meaning and employees understand why their work matters. A well-articulated job provides a kind of “commander’s intent,” obviating the need for micromanagement because employees at all levels understand and are motivated by how the work they do fits into a larger process to help customers get their jobs done.

  • Unilever has managed to turn the oldest “health” soap brand in the world, Lifebuoy, into one of the company’s fastest growing brands in the past few years by nesting a job under the mission of helping children in emerging markets live to the age of five. You can’t innovate to the broad goal of helping children live, but you can innovate around the very specific circumstances of that struggle. Experts tell us that it takes thirty seconds of vigorous washing with soap and hot water to eliminate germs—but in the circumstances that Unilever was innovating into, that was not likely to happen. Most people spend around seven seconds washing their hands—and rarely more than fifteen seconds. Kids are usually in even more of a hurry. In emerging markets, the circumstances were even more daunting. In India, for example, nearly 400,000 children under the age of five die in a year from diarrheal disease—an average of more than one thousand deaths a day. Yet mothers and children in parts of India, and other emerging market countries, don’t routinely wash their hands. So Unilever created a series of products that helps consumers make the progress they were struggling to make—in their particular circumstances. Color-changing soap was created to ensure that children scrubbed for long enough to kill germs. The soap changes color when they’ve reached ten seconds—all that is required to kill germs with Unilever’s special formula—(and makes it more fun for kids to stick with it long enough to matter). The mission of saving children’s lives was powerful, but it was only with the specificity of what job consumers were trying to do that Unilever was able to energize its oldest soap brand. The more you understand about the job, the better you will connect to it internally.

  • A clearly defined job spec that everyone understands can serve the same purpose—a focal point for employees to make the right decisions without being told specifically what to do each time. Absent a specific directive, employees know how to balance the tradeoffs that necessarily come with any new initiative. What’s most important? What can’t we compromise on? What’s the ultimate goal? What’s my role in achieving that ultimate goal? Jobs Theory provides you with the right set of lenses to make everyday choices that connect to the jobs you are solving in customers’ lives. Jobs Theory provides a language of integration, whereby marketers, engineers, salespeople, and customer service employees can communicate with each other, rather than talk past one another.

  • It’s not easy to get these jobs-based goals right. Jobs are complex and nuanced and require a deep understanding of the progress a consumer is trying to make. But when you do, the impact on an organization’s productivity can be dramatic, because the resulting clarity enables a much greater share of the organization’s human capital to be deployed with the right balance of autonomy and alignment. Since we know that strategy is formed in the everyday choices employees make about resources, processes, and priorities, clarity about what jobs your customers are hiring you to do provides a kind of intuitive playbook.

  • Amazon founder Jeff Bezos has been crystal clear since its inception that there are three things that matter in their retail business: vast selection, low prices, and fast delivery. In Amazon’s now famous “customer backward” innovation process, those three measures are monitored on a minute-by-minute basis. Bezos doesn’t consider delays to be accidents or poor performance, he considers them “defects” to be eradicated. For example, to stay true to its foundational promise of “lowest prices,” Amazon built a shopping robot, an automated search engine that scours the prices of hundreds of benchmark products twice a day. If a lower price was found, the Amazon price was automatically lowered to beat that competitor’s price. That’s why you sometimes see an unexpected price drop while a product sits in your Amazon shopping cart. If the lower price dips below some appropriate gross-margin threshold, it triggers human review. Everything about that system is designed for efficiency—but its focus is squarely on efficiently delivering on the job customers are hiring Amazon to do. Bezos personally hands out the Amazon “Just Do It” award—an old Nike shoe—every few months to an employee who has strayed from his or her official job responsibilities to do something for the greater good of Amazon. That kind of focus keeps employees clear on what matters most to Amazon’s customers.

  • Every successful organization achieves initial success, consciously or not, by performing a valuable job for a group of customers. At the outset, there is very little in the way of processes or the type of rules we refer to as “priorities,” such as how companies evaluate opportunities, compensate managers, and measure success. A successful start-up is typically organized around the job, which tends to make it look like a small group of people each wearing multiple hats and sharing an understanding for what the entity is delivering that enables the customer to make progress. In short, the organizing unit in a start-up is the customer’s job. Things change over time: growth requires additional layers of management and increased communication. Clear individual responsibilities and defined processes are a simple necessity as an antidote to chaos. The informal, often unconscious way that early-stage entities organically organize around the Job to Be Done—because that’s how value is created and revenue is generated—becomes untenable and unmanageable as companies grow. Inexorably, the organizing unit moves to a far more intense focus on customers and products and competitors and investors—but a less and less intense focus on the job. Increased control and efficiency, however, is not without risk. The risk is that managers frame their task as efficiently executing established internal processes rather than effectively resolving customers’ Jobs to Be Done. And the further removed managers are from the customer context, the easier it is to slip into a highly edited view of the external world. Over time, our organization can become less and less aligned with the job customers hire us to perform as we blithely expand and optimize our capabilities based on these internally benchmarked “competencies.” But Intuit, SNHU, American Girl, OnStar, Deseret News, and so many other of the successful organizations we’ve studied reveal a very different orientation: a focus on the core customer job as the defining and aligning organizational principle of the enterprise. Functional oversight and efficiency is a requirement of competitive markets. However, efficiency is only value creating when it is in the performance of a process that is creating customer value by fulfilling a high-priority job. Successful organizations pursue operational efficiency without compromising the customer Job to Be Done. Understanding the most important jobs your company solves for customers can be translated into a rallying cry that aligns individuals across the organization behind a common purpose and functions as an enduring innovation North Star. In contrast to the usually generic nature of most companies’ mission statements, a well-crafted statement of the jobs a company exists to solve can be both inspiring and practical.

  • An organization explicitly focused on a clearly defined job enjoys four key benefits:
    • Distributed decision making: Employees throughout the organization are empowered to make good decisions that align with the job, and to be autonomous and innovative.
    • Resource optimization: The jobs focus shines a light on which resources are aligned against what matters most and which are not, and enables them to be rebalanced accordingly.
    • Inspiration: Solving a customer’s job is inherently inspiring to individuals in an organization, as it enables them to see how their work enables real people to make progress in their lives.
    • Better measurement: With a focus on the job, people will naturally seek to measure and manage to more customer-centric metrics.
  • Finding the right way to articulate the job your company is in business to solve—and driving this deeply into your culture—can be difficult and takes real work, but the benefits are worth it.

  • Questions for Leaders
    • What are the most important jobs—or the most important job—your organization exists to solve?
    • How broadly understood are these jobs across your organization? Are they reflected in your mission statement or other key company communications?
    • Do your leaders consistently communicate the centrality of these jobs?
    • How could you embed these jobs in all your leadership communications, your corporate communications, and your culture?
  • If you or a colleague describes a Job to Be Done in adjectives and adverbs, it is not a valid job. It might describe an experience that a customer needs to have in order to do the job, but it is not a job, as we have defined it here. For example, “convenience” is not a Job to Be Done. It might be an experience that might cause a customer to choose your product rather than a competitor’s product, but it is not a job. A well-defined Job to Be Done is expressed in verbs and nouns—such as, “I need to ‘write’ books verbally, obviating the need to type or edit by hand.” In contrast, the sentence “We should aspire to be more honest” is a noble goal, but it’s not a job. Second, defining a job at the right level of abstraction is critical to ensuring that the theory is useful. This can be more art than science, but there is a good rule of thumb: if the architecture of the system or product can only be met by products within the same product class, the concept of the Job to Be Done does not apply. If only products in the same class can solve the problem, you’re not uncovering a job.

  • A couple of examples: “I need to have a chocolate milk shake that is in a twelve-ounce disposable container” is not a job. The possible candidates that I could hire to do this are all in the milk shake product category. I could call this a need or a preference—but it isn’t a job. We need to go up another level of abstraction in order to discover the job. “I need something that will keep me occupied with what’s happening on the road while I drive. And also, I’d like this to fill me up so that I’m not hungry during a 10:00 a.m. meeting. I could hire a banana, doughnuts, bagels, Snickers, or a coffee to do this job.” The candidates to do the job are all from different product categories; and our rule of thumb is that this is the right level of abstraction.

  • Another illustration: “I need a thin sheet of material that we can wrap around a house just before we apply shingles, siding, or bricks. It needs to have a high coefficient of friction; a low coefficient of thermal conduction; and a high coefficient of toughness—so that it won’t rip as we wrap the house. Oh—and it also must be impervious to moisture.” This isn’t a job, it’s a technical specification. It gives me the choice of buying Tyvek by DuPont, or to be cheap, ignore the spec, and use nothing instead.

  • I need to go up to a higher level of abstraction in order to discover a job. This is what we might find as we explore for it:
    • “We’re building a new house here in Boston, where the cold, damp air of winter and the hot, humid air of summer both easily penetrate walls. I want my family to feel warm and cozy in my home in the winter—and cool and dry in the summer. I need to insulate the outside walls of this house so I can minimize the costs of heating and air-conditioning.”
    • I could hire wood (paper) pulp and blow it into the space in my walls to do this job. I could also hire rolls of fiberglass insulation and staple it to the studs in the wall. Or I could hire Tyvek by Dupont. And to nail things down even tighter,
    • I could hire Tyvek and rolls of fiberglass together. Or I could plan on compensating with extra sweaters in the winter and throwing open more windows in the summer. Maybe I should buy a couple of dehumidifiers and fans. Or maybe I could just hire Santa Barbara or San Francisco, where Mother Nature has obviated the problem of insulation—and I could move there.
  • We can see that this is a Job to Be Done and not a technical specification or requirement. We know this because the alternatives of things to hire to get the job done come from very different categories of products and services.

Stay up to date with my latest posts/tweets here: @manas_saloi