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Competing Against Luck: The Story of Innovation and Customer Choice

Clayton M. Christensen

How strongly I recommend it: 9/10 Last read: February 15, 2018

THE book for understanding the theory behind Jobs to be Done. It’s written by Clayton Christensen, the guy who coined the term “jobs to be done” and developed most of the theory around it. It’s well written and has tons of examples of identifying and using Jobs in the wild. Just an overall excellent book and a great read. If you're interested in learning about Jobs to be Done, start here.

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My notes and highlights:

If you are tired of throwing yourself and your organization into well-intended innovation efforts that routinely underwhelm; if you want to create products and services that you know, in advance, customers will not only be eager to buy, but willing to pay a premium price for; if you want to compete—and win—against those relying on luck to successfully innovate, then read on.

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.

“If you do not know how to ask the right question, you discover nothing.”

After decades of watching great companies fail over and over again, I’ve come to the conclusion that there is, indeed, a better question to ask: What job did you hire that product to do?

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.

They were conceived, developed, and launched into the market with a clear understanding of how these products would help consumers make the progress they were struggling to achieve.

But the theory of disruptive innovation does not tell you where to look for new opportunities.

For years, I’d been focused on understanding why great companies fail, but I realized I had never really thought about the reverse problem: How do successful companies know how to grow?

Moesta shared with me a project for a fast-food chain: how to sell more milk shakes. The chain had spent months studying the problem in incredible detail. It had brought in customers that fit the profile of the quintessential milk shake consumer and peppered them with questions: “Can you tell us how we can improve our milk shakes so you’d buy more of them? Do you want it cheaper? Chunkier? Chewier? Chocolatier?” Even when customers explained what they thought they would like, it was hard to know exactly what to do. The chain tried many things in response to the customer feedback, innovations specifically intended to satisfy the highest number of potential milk shake buyers. Within months, something notable happened: Nothing. After all the marketers’ efforts, there was no change in sales of the chain’s milk shake category.

So we thought of approaching the question in a totally different way: I wonder what job arises in people’s lives that causes them to come to this restaurant to “hire” 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.

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.

In that moment, the milk shake isn’t competing against a banana or a Snickers bar or a doughnut, like the morning milk shake is. It’s competing against stopping at the toy store or my finding time for a game of catch later on.

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.

Unilever might have had a large share of what marketers have defined as the yellow fats business, but no customer walks into the store saying, “I need to buy something in the yellow fats category.” They come in with a specific Job to Be Done.

But their tepid response made me wonder how many companies are operating within such fixed assumptions about how to think about innovation that it’s difficult to step back and assess whether they’re even asking the right questions.

Executives are inundated with data about their products. They know market share to the nth degree, how products are selling in different markets, profit margin across hundreds of different items, and so on. But all this data is focused around customers and the product itself—not how well the product is solving customers’ jobs.

Even customer satisfaction metrics, which reveal whether a customer is happy with a product or not, don’t give any clues as to how to do the job better. Yet it’s how most companies track and measure success.

Part of the problem is that we’re missing the right vocabulary to talk about innovation in ways that help us understand what actually causes it to succeed. Innovators are left to mix, match, and often misapply inadequate concepts and terminology designed for other purposes. We’re awash in data, frameworks, customer categories, and performance metrics intended for other purposes on the assumption that they’re helpful for innovation, too.

If Jobs Theory is so powerful, why aren’t more companies using it already? First, as we’ll explain later, the definition of what we mean by a job is highly specific and precise. It’s not an all-purpose catchphrase for something that a customer wants or needs. It’s not just a new buzzword. Finding and understanding jobs—and then creating the right product or service to solve them—takes work.

Disruption, a theory of competitive response to an innovation, provides valuable insights to managers seeking to navigate threats and opportunities. But it leaves unanswered the critical question of how a company should innovate to consistently grow. It does not provide guidance on specifically where to look for new opportunities, or specifically what products and services you should create that customers will want to buy.

Jobs Theory explains why customers pull certain products and services into their lives: they do this to resolve highly important, unsatisfied jobs that arise. And this, in turn, explains why some innovations are successful and others are not.

Jobs Theory not only provides a powerful guide for innovation, but also frames competition in a way that allows for real differentiation and long-term competitive advantage, provides a common language for organizations to understand customer behavior, and even enables leaders to articulate their company’s purpose with greater precision.

To elevate innovation from hit-or-miss to predictable, you have to understand the underlying causal mechanism—the progress a consumer is trying to make in particular circumstances.

Innovation, in a very real sense, exists in a “pre–quality revolution” state. Managers accept flaws, missteps, and failure as an inevitable part of the process of innovation. They have become so accustomed to putting Band-Aids on their uneven innovation success that too often they give no real thought to what’s causing it in the first place.

I’m asked hundreds of times a year to offer opinions on specific business challenges in industries or organizations in which I have no special knowledge. Yet I’m able to provide insight because there is a toolbox full of theories that teach me not what to think but rather how to think.

Over the years, I’ve come to the conclusion that good theory is what has been missing in the discussions about how companies can create successful innovations.

What causes a customer to purchase and use a particular product or service?

There is a simple, but powerful, insight at the core of our theory: 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.

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.

A job can only be defined—and a successful solution created—relative to the specific context in which it arises:

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.

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.

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.

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.

Jobs Theory is not primarily focused on “who” did something, or “what” they did—but on “why.”

When I share Jobs Theory with people, they often find it to be both intuitive and revelatory. It just makes sense. They can easily think of jobs in their own lives and their misdirected efforts to satisfy them. But I also know that understanding it well enough to implement in practice can take some effort. It goes against the habits that so many managers have honed over years of practice.

One thought experiment we’ve found helpful 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?

A well-defined job is multilayered and complex. And that is actually a good thing. Why? Because it means that perfectly satisfying someone’s job likely requires not just creating a product, but engineering and delivering a whole set of experiences that address the many dimensions of the job and then integrating those experiences into the company’s processes (as we’ll discuss in depth later in the book). When you’ve done that well, it’s almost impossible for competitors to copy.

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.

What’s important is that you focus on understanding the underlying job, not falling in love with your solution for it.

For innovators, understanding the job is to understand what consumers care most about in that moment of trying to make progress.

Ford CEO Mark Fields spent much of late 2015 telling people that “we are not only thinking of ourselves as an automotive company, but also as a mobility company.”

Sound theory—the kind that truly explains, predictably, what will cause what to happen—does not develop overnight. It has to be shaped, tested, and refined, and the context in which it does and does not apply must be understood.

We know, for example, that Jobs Theory is not useful if there is no real struggle for a consumer or the existing solutions are good enough.

It’s not useful when the decision to be made relies almost entirely on a mathematical analysis, such as commodities trading.

In the world of innovation, many companies are stuck in a world of creating “epicycles”: elaborate approximations, estimations, and extrapolations. Because we gather, fine-tune, and cross-reference all manner of data, it seems like we should be getting better and better at predicting success. But if we fail to understand why customers make the choices they make, we’re just getting better and better at a fundamentally flawed process. Without the right understanding of the causal mechanism at the center of the innovation universe, companies are trying to make sense of the universe revolving around the earth.

As you look at innovation through the lenses of the Jobs Theory, what you see is not the customer at the center of the innovation universe, but the customer’s Job to Be Done. It may seem like a small distinction—just a few minutes of arc—but it matters a great deal. In fact, it changes everything.

While many in the business world associate the word “theory” with something purely academic or abstract, nothing could be further from the truth. Theories that explain causality are among the most important and practical tools business leaders can have.

The field of innovation is in need of better theory, especially for the foundational question “What causes a customer to purchase and use a particular product or service?”

Jobs Theory answers this question by asserting that customers purchase and use (or “hire” in our jobs metaphor) products and services to satisfy jobs that arise in their lives. A job is defined as the progress that a customer desires to make in a particular circumstance.

This definition is specific and important: Fully understanding a customer’s job requires understanding the progress a customer is trying to make in particular circumstances and understanding all of its functional, social, and emotional dimensions—as well as the tradeoffs the customer is willing to make.

Once you understand the customer’s Job to Be Done, it brings into sharp relief the true competition you face to be hired. This provides critical information for how to innovate to make your solution more attractive than any competitor’s.

Questions for Leaders:

“We were frustrated and struggling with our inability to grow,” he says now, “and focusing on the Jobs to Be Done felt like a no-brainer.”

Every single one of them nailed a poorly performed Job to Be Done.

Competitive advantage is built not just by understanding customers’ jobs, but by creating the experiences that customers seek both in purchasing and using the product or service—and then, crucially, building internal processes to ensure that those experiences are reliably delivered to the customer every time. That is what’s hard for competitors to copy.

A product that has been designed specifically to fulfill a well-understood Job to Be Done allows you to crawl into the skin of your customer and see the world through her eyes. It says to the customer, “We get you.”

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?

The problem lies not in the tools you’re using, but what you are looking for and how you piece your observations together. Jobs analysis doesn’t require you to throw out the data and research you have already gathered. Personas, ethnographic research, focus groups, customer panels, competitive analysis, and so on, can all be perfectly valid starting points for uncovering important insights—if you’re looking with the right lenses.

Jobs are all around us, but it helps to know where to look and how to interpret what you find. You have to have a job-hunting strategy.

We offer here five ways to uncover jobs that might be right in front of you if you know what you’re looking for:

  1. Finding a Job Close to Home

  2. 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.

    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.

  3. Workarounds and Compensating Behaviors

    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.

  4. Look for What People Don’t Want to Do

  5. 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.

Once you’ve found a promising vein, you have to look all around it to understand the context of a job before you can innovate to solve it.

What the clinicians said didn’t always match what they actually wanted to do in reality.

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

Consumers can’t always articulate what they want. And even when they do, their actions may tell a different story.

The “Big Hire”: the moment you buy the product.

The "Little Hire": When you actually "consume" the product.

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.

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.

[Josh: A million times this. Companies often track vanity metrics like downloads, but don't look at who's actually using the app regularly.]

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.

What has to get fired for my product to get hired?

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.

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?”

Loss aversion—people’s tendency to want to avoid loss—is twice as powerful psychologically as the allure of gains, as demonstrated by Kahneman and Amos Tversky.

The anxieties that come into play are powerful: anxiety about the cost, anxiety of learning something new, and anxiety of the unknown can be overwhelming.

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.

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.

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.”

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.

One of the fundamental mistakes that many marketers make is to collect a handful of data points from a huge sample of respondents when what they really need—and this interview illustrates—is a huge number of data points from a smaller sample size.

As many of the executives we interviewed have told us, when you hit upon a job, it just makes intuitive sense. It feels true. A genuine insight, as neuromarketing expert Gerald Zaltman, a colleague at Harvard Business School, says, is a thought that is experienced as true on conception. When you have an insight, you don’t have to convince yourself that it’s important or powerful. You just know.

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?

New products succeed not because of the features and functionality they offer but because of the experiences they enable.

I have found that creating the right set of experiences around a clearly defined job—and then organizing the company around delivering those experiences (which we’ll discuss in the next chapter)—almost inoculates you against disruption.

Disruptive competitors almost never come with a better sense of the job. They don’t see beyond the product.

Jobs are complex and multifaceted. But a deep understanding of a job provides a sort of decoder to the complexity—a job spec, if you will.

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?

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

A product that consistently creates the right experiences for resolving customers’ jobs should speak to the consumer: “Your search is over, pick me!”

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.

Purpose brands provide remarkable clarity.

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.

Purpose brand makes very clear which features and functions are relevant to the job and which potential improvements will ultimately prove irrelevant.

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

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.

The patterns of interaction, coordination, communication, and decision making through which they accomplish these transformations are 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?

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

“If you can’t describe what you are doing as a process, then you don’t know what you are doing.”

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 creativity2—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.

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.

A 2010 Bain & Company study reported that fewer than one-third of major reorgs reviewed delivered any material improvement and many actually destroyed value.

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.

“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 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.

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.

The important thing is to be attached to the job, but not the way we solve it today.

Ford’s core mistake—of focusing on the product spec rather than the job spec—gets repeated all the time. In fact, the misstep is so common in the high-tech world, that Anshu Sharma of Storm Ventures has earned justifiable recognition for calling attention to the problem, which he has dubbed “stack fallacy.” Stack fallacy highlights the tendency of engineers to overweight the value of their own technology and underweight the downstream applications of that technology to solve customer problems and enable desired progress. “Stack fallacy is the mistaken belief that it is trivial to build the layers above yours,” Sharma says. It’s the reason that companies fail so often when they try to move up the stack. “They don’t have first-hand empathy for what customers of the product one level above theirs in the stack actually want. They’re disconnected from the context in which their product will actually be used.”

The converse is equally true: when processes are not aligned with a compelling customer job, optimizing the process means getting better and better at doing the wrong thing.

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.

[Josh: Before learning about JTBD, this was talked about for years within the UX community. It's a different take on the similar question "Who owns the user experience?" The power I see in JTBD giving organizations something more tangible. Rally your team around an "experience" and you'll fight an uphill battle, rally them around the "job" a customer has, and you'll have an easier time getting everyone on board.]

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

[Josh: Why companies lose focus, and eventually, their customers]

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.

People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill. They want a quarter-inch hole.

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

  1. The Fallacy of Active Versus Passive Data

    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.”4 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.

    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.

    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.

    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.

  2. The Fallacy of 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 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.

  3. The Fallacy of Conforming Data

    “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.”

    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.

    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.

    There’s an even more fundamental problem with data. Many people view numerical data as more trustworthy than qualitative data.

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.

Whereas the subjectivity of data from field-based, ethnographic research is glaringly apparent, the subjective bias of numerical data hides behind its superficial precision.

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:

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

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.

Intuit’s development teams would extensively survey customers about what new features they’d like to see in Intuit products. And customers had a lot to say. They’d rattle off an expansive wish list. “They’d ask for 150 features,” Cook says. So the team jumped on that feedback. Development teams would spend weeks arguing and debating which of the list of potential new features were most important to provide. Everybody, Cook says, was guided by what he or she thought was right for the customer. But in reality, it offered no guidance at all. “We got into feature chase,” Cook says. “Too often we’d go look at what customers were asking for and build it.” But absent a clear understanding of the job the customers were hiring that product to do, “there was simply no way to differentiate which features were the right ones. It’s like navigating without a compass.”

Having a jobs-focused organization, the CEOs we interviewed for this book tell us, leads to four categories of clear benefit:

Enable distributed decision making with clarity of purpose—employees throughout the organization are empowered to make good jobs-focused decisions and to be autonomous and innovative.

Align resources against what matters most—and free resources from what does not.

Inspire people and unify your culture in service of what they care about most. Measure what matters most—customer progress, employee contributions, and incentives.

The more you understand about the job, the better you will connect to it internally.

If that culture has formed around the job, people will autonomously do what they need to do to be successful.

A clear Job to Be Done can provide the foundation for an organization’s culture—we solve problems this way because we know what matters and why.

At its best, Jobs Theory enables “lean” operations—waste and overhead and time are minimized systematically because once you have alignment around the job, LeBlanc says, wasted time, energy, and resources are minimized.

“Our success is defined by our students’ success,”

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.

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.