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Are Your Innovation Search Lights Ready For Exploration?

Sometimes companies have a difficult time innovating because they can’t see beyond their current field of view. They see their markets from a product and/or technology orientation and have difficulty seeing beyond this limited perspective, or light if you will. It reminds me of the story about the guy who lost his car keys one night. It goes something like this:

One dark evening a man was on his hands and knees under a street light looking through the grass. A policeman asked what he was looking for.  “The keys to my car.” replied the man. Having some time and feeling helpful, the policeman joined the man in his search. After a while, with no success, the policeman asked: “Where were you when you lost your keys?”  “Over there by my car.” the man gestured. The policeman was puzzled. “Why are you looking for them here?” The man without keys explained: “The light’s better!”

Even though the guy probably knows the keys lay somewhere in the darkness, he never-the-less keeps searching under the light because that’s where he can “see.”  Venturing into the “dark space” would be a terrible waste of time he reasons.  “No way can I find the key in the darkness. Best to stick to where I can see and hope for the best.”

A product view limits our ability to see beyond our current business and mental models

Just like the guy searching for his lost keys under the street lamp, by thinking of the market using a product oriented view, we limit our ability to search into our dark space.  We might decide to play it safe, and not venture into the dark space where we might stub our toe or worse. While we might be safe for a while, this strategy will ultimately lead us to creating incremental, me-too products that can only compete on price. Or we find ourselves in a specmanship war with the competition, wasting development resources on features that the market really doesn’t need or want. Either way, we will find ourselves in a red ocean struggling for survival.

We might decide to take a risk and jump into the dark space and hope we can learn how to see once we get there. We can certainly just crawl on our hands and knees looking for the keys (or at least a flash light) that unlock the next big thing. This might work but more often than not we end up with are solutions looking for a problems. If we are lucky we can iterate our way into the light. But at what cost?

Shining Light on the Dark Space using Jobs-To-Be-Done Marketing Lens

In past articles (see: Discovering New Opportunities Using The Jobs-To-Be-Done Marketing Lens and Finding Your Blue Ocean Using Jobs-To-Be-Done Marketing Lens) I’ve talked a lot about the jobs-to-be-done innovation framework as a methodology to discover and define market opportunities from the customer’s perspective.

Recall that customers hire products and services to get important jobs done in their life’s. And customer’s define a set of success metrics based on their desired outcomes – to either get more of a desired outcome or equally important, get less or eliminate undesired outcomes.

But what if you  are struggling in framing your market through the jobs-to-be-done lens? Perhaps your company has such a strong product and/or technical orientation, you have lost touch with your customers, the jobs they are trying to get done, and their ultimate desired outcomes.

Or you have become over depended on your sales channel (internal and external) that you actually never really talk to or observe what customers really want?  You just take what the sales channel tells you as fact, design to the sales channels specifications and hope they know what they are talking about. Of course if they don’t, and they can’t sell it, you can always point a finger at them. But no one wins, but perhaps your competitors, in the blame game.

Customers hire products and services to get important jobs done

The good news is that the jobs-to-be-done innovation framework is straight forward and you can master it by stepping outside your current dimensional views, be it product, technical and/or sales orientation, and reframe the market from the customer’s perspective.

Start the process by asking amongst yourselves: why do our current customers hire our products in the first place?  What jobs are they trying to get done by hiring us?  What ultimately are they trying to achieve by doing the job? (their ultimate desired outcomes).  How much of the job do they get done using our solutions? Under what circumstances are they trying to get their jobs done?  What constraints do they face in executing their jobs?

Continue to explore other potential job executors: Who else out there might be trying to do similar jobs but perhaps with different circumstances and desired outcomes? If we can identify these groups of job executors, might we be able to adapt our solutions to fit their needs?

The answers to these questions will shed a new light on opportunities you might otherwise miss because of the limitations associated with being product, technical and/or sales oriented. In next week’s article, I’ll demonstrate how a product oriented company can use jobs-to-be-done lens to shed light on their dark space.

Final thoughts: don’t be like the guy looking for his keys under the street light. He won’t find it there, and you won’t find your next big opportunity by offering the same products to the same markets. You need to find a way to explore your dark space. Begin your exploration using the jobs-to-be-done innovation framework to shed new light on new possibilities.


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