Why is the Jobs-to-be-done Theory Important?

Some management gurus like Anthony Ulwick and Clayton Christensen have propounded a theory called the Jobs-to-be-done theory. What is jobs-to-be-done and why is it important in today’s context?

The theory recognizes that customers have some motivations that drive them to buy products and services. The theory states that customers have certain ‘jobs-to-be-done’ and they ‘hire’ products and services (let us call them solutions) to get these jobs done. The same solution can be used by customers to accomplish different jobs-to-be-done.

Who is your competitor?

As an example, let us take the solution – newspapers. Some may read it to ‘kill boredom’ (Job#1). Some may read it to ‘be aware of what is happening around the world’ (Job#2). Some may want to get ‘detailed analysis of Government initiatives’ (Job#3). Some may want to do one or more of the above jobs. Customers accomplish these different jobs-to-be-done using the same solution of newspapers.

The above example of newspapers precisely illustrates the importance of this theory. Because companies do not compete with other companies on the same solution. The competition happens at the job level. In the traditional approach, the marketer for a newspaper company would define her problem as: “How to define a better newspaper?” and would want to create the best newspaper available. She would survey respondents as to what topics they would like to read, what fonts make for a better reading experience, whether they would pay a premium to read something in color and so on. She then would capture the responses on a ‘Likert scale’ and would ‘average’ the responses and then creates an ‘appropriate’ newspaper customers would like.

Here is the problem. For a given job-to-be-done, the right solution need not even be a newspaper. And that is one of the reasons the newspaper industry is in trouble. Because for the job of ‘killing boredom’, Buzzfeed might be a better solution, for the job of ‘being aware’, Twitter is clearly a better solution and for the job of ‘getting detailed analysis about a topic’, the countless blogs are a better solution. Therefore a newspaper company would have to compete with Twitter, Buzzfeed, the many blogs on the internet and many others for other jobs-to-be-done. Maybe that is one of the reasons the Newspaper industry is in trouble?

The ‘Better mouse trap’ Trap

Giving attention to jobs-to-be-done of customers is extremely important in today’s context. McKinsey identifies 12 technologies that could drive ‘truly massive economic transformations and disruptions in the coming years.’ Some of these technologies are Mobile Internet, Internet of Things, Cloud Computing, 3D Printing, Automation of Knowledge Work etc. These disruptive technologies have been and will be creating companies that will be unlikely competitors to incumbent companies.

Mattel may not be competing with other toy companies in the future. Mattel and other toy companies are yet to sufficiently satisfy that many customers have of “modified and custom made toys”. 3D printing will allow users to use beautiful digital toy designs created and shared by anyone around the world and ‘print’ them. You might have a better Hot Wheels toy car than Mattel sells and you do not face a cost disadvantage in making a single car by 3D printing (the unit cost will be the same for a single car or n number of cars).

Customers do not ‘buy detergents’ but buy a solution to ‘keep their clothes presentable’. The solution need not be a detergent but can be easy to clean clothes made possible through the technology enabler of ‘Advanced Materials’.

Customers may in the future fulfill the job of ‘keeping the lawn presentable’ by not buying lawnmowers but by ensuring the grass they grow will be capped to a certain height by use of synthetic biology which gives the ability to customize organisms by the ability to ‘write’ their DNA.

Students go to college for getting different ‘jobs’ done: ‘to gain skills for the future’, ‘to get a credential that will be a better signal for future prospects’, ‘to meet and interact with high achievers’, ‘to learn from the best faculty in the field’ etc. Such a solution catering to so many ‘jobs-to-be-done’ is often a good target for disruption. For each of these jobs-to-be-done, you can expect a separate solution that may be better than the solution of a ‘college’. For example, solutions like TopCoder enable programmers to do the job of ‘I want to prove my skills’ and get hired at companies like Facebook and Google which consistently make the list of ‘Best Companies to work for’.

“Build a better mousetrap, and the world will beat a path to your door”, a quote attributed (probably mistakenly) to Emerson might not apply in today’s age of disruption. Because the better solution to trap mice may not be a mousetrap at all!

Jobs-to-be-done is therefore an important concept that will help both incumbent companies and new entrants to move beyond the ‘better mousetrap’ trap and seek to build better solutions even if the capabilities and competencies that go into the new solutions are very different from the incumbent one. So, the Jobs-to-be-done theory will be a recurring theme on this Blog.


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