Innovators and entrepreneurs know the risk/reward nature of creating new products. It’s incredibly exciting to be a part of a product development team working on the next best cool amazing product.

But deep inside you know the risks involved. You think is the product going to succeed?

Is it going to make money?

Are customers going to love it?

What if it fails?

These questions and many more can keep many of us up at night wondering what if…


What if there was a way to maximize the chances of success?

What if there was a way to really find out what customers want in a new product?

What if innovation can be less risky and lead to much higher success rates?

One of the unfortunate results of data and customer analytics has been the idea that to develop new products or innovate we need to learn more ABOUT the customer.

Data can tell us about the customer, their age, education, income, language, culture, interests, etc. but very little about the actual job they want done.

It turns out that one of the best strategies for creating new products is a process called “jobs to be done”. This method of creating new and disruptive products was developed by the renowned Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen.

There are 4 reasons why customer information is a misguided path to innovation.

  1. Customer data shows only correlations and patterns
  2. Customer data doesn’t reflect the experience of the customer and the job to be done
  3. Companies have become comfortable in using data to make innovation decisions
  4. Most data in market research is of the “correct” kind instead of the “true” kind

Clayton Christensen attributes the cause of failure in innovation to too much emphasis on data and wanting to know more and more about customers. Instead he believes the emphasis should be in the “job to be done”.

As HBS’s Ted Levitt pointed out decades ago, people don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill; they want something that will make a quarter-inch hole.To be a successful innovator you need to be good at figuring out how to help customers solve problems.

Here are some tips to keep in mind

  • The job is more than a task, It’s an experience
  • Circumstances are more important than data and product features
  • Innovators solve problems that have less than satisfactory solutions
  • Jobs are more than just function. They include emotional and relational dimensions

Traditional market segmentations such as customer personas are based on correlation data and patterns with attributes such as age, gender, income level, and education level. Jobs-based segmentation looks to understand the root cause of purchase-when a buyer needs to “hire” a product or service to get a “job” done. That job is not just about function but about creating the right set of experiences for customers.

4 Dimensions Of Jobs To Be Done

  1. Get a deep understanding of the job itself
  2. Create the right experience for the purchase and use of the product
  3. Develop a process across your business to support the job to be done strategy
  4. Observe tasks and jobs people would rather avoid

Of these 4 the fourth one is the easiest to miss. We often tend to ignore the tasks and jobs people would rather avoid. The “avaoidable” tasks can be fertile ground for new business.

Just think about your weekly “trash collection”. Most of us don’t want anything to do with the job of collecting and removing trash. Yet without trash collection, we’re quickly realize how important it is to have a company take care of it for us.

Some of the greatest innovators succeeded with little data but a lot of intuition. You can learn as much about people who aren’t buying as from those that are buying. When customers are figuring out workarounds that often means less than satisfactory performance. That need can be the seed for an idea for a new business.

3 global companies that used Job to be done” to innovate

Airbnb’s founders clearly understood the concept of the job to be done. The company painstakingly identified and then storyboarded 45 different emotional moments for Airbnb hosts and guests. The storyboards were a documentary of jobs to be done. “When you storyboard something, the more realistic it is, the more decisions you have to make,” CEO Brian Chesky told Fast Company. Here are some examples of questions Brian wanted answers to: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? How are they feeling? Are they tired?

Uber’s founders also relied on the jobs to be done to disrupt the market. They recognized the unsatisfactory solution to the job of urban transportation. Uber has been successful because it nailed the job to be done concept. Uber’s value proposition is not just offering you a car to take you from point A to point B, but it offers an easy solution to travel without any cash on hand and knowing exactly when your specific driver will turn up. That’s the secret to its success.

At the other end of the market spectrum, Hilti, a Liechtenstein-based manufacturer of high-end power tools for the construction industry, reconsidered the real job to be done for many of its current customers. Hilti figured out that contractors make money by finishing projects.If their tools are not working right or they don’t have the right tools, the job doesn’t get done. Contractors buy tools to get their jobs done and they make the most money by using the tools most efficiently. Hilti could help contractors get the job done by selling tool-use instead of the tools themselves.

Hilti would then be in the business of managing its customers’ tool inventory and providing the best tool at the right time for a monthly fee. To deliver on that value proposition, the company created a fleet-management program for tools and in the process shifted its focus from manufacturing and distribution to service. That meant Hilti had to construct a new profit formula and develop new resources and new processes.

ING Direct is yet another example of innovation using the jobs to be done concept. Banks determined a long time ago that a “savings account” is not a profitable market. They put so many rules into opening a savings account that most people simply find it frustrating to even consider opening an account. By focusing in on the “job to be done” ING Direct saw good opportunity where others saw low margins.

ING Direct created an amazing simple offering and you can open an account with a single dollar It’s fast, and convenient.


Many companies have designed innovation roadmaps that produce disappointing results. Lots of money is spent in compiling customer data in various forms that help describe them rather than describe the job they do. Managers have become too comfortable with the idea that data can drive innovation. It doesn’t have to be that way. Innovation can be a lot more predictable and profitable if you start by identifying the job to be done.

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Nick Rakhshani