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Want To Play the Game of Innovation For the Long-Haul?

Then build your innovation strategy around the jobs-to-be-done innovation theory

The way to win customers and beat the competition is simple: help people get important jobs done better (in a “meaningful way)” than what they are currently experiencing. This is the core concept behind the jobs-to-be-done innovation theory.

When we discover important jobs people want done, and determine if people aren’t achieving 100% satisfaction in getting these jobs done, then an opportunity to innovate and create a new value proposition is likely.

Value is always defined from the customer’s perspective, not from ours or the competitors’. When we focus our attention solely on beating the competitor by one-upmanship, we ultimately lose sight of what customer’s really want. Too often we end up with either “me-too” products, or bloated and expensive products that overshoot the market.

Worse, by focusing on beating the competition as your innovation strategy (a defensive strategy), companies become vulnerable to being outflanked by a new entrant who doesn’t play by the established industry rules.

The story repeats itself over and over again as predicted by Clayton Christensen’s “disruption theory.” For example, consider the plight of the main-frame computer companies, who were flanked by the mini-computer companies, who were then flanked by the PC companies, who in turn are being flanked by smart phones. What will smart phones be flanked by?

Apple, under the leadership of Steve Jobs, was able to rethink the future using a new set of rules that focused on helping people get important jobs done. I am not suggesting that Apple specifically used the “jobs-to-be-done” innovation theory to reinvent itself.

My understanding is that Steve Jobs and his designers and development team had a deep understanding of how technology could change the way people approached day to day task in their lives. Design thinking was core to their approach. They would prototype, test assumptions, evaluate and improve.

However it was Apple approached innovation and new product development (somewhat a secret), they did it better than anyone before. I submit that when we back-test the jobs-to-be-done theory to explain Apple’s success, we discover the theory holds true.

As for Design Thinking, in my way of thinking, it is compatible and complementary with the jobs-to-be-done innovation theory. Design thinking provides a set of plays every innovation playbook should have in it.

Important and core jobs are stable overtime

In my book, “the Innovator’s Playbook,” I present the argument that core jobs are stable and provide a focal point for innovation. Core (or primary) jobs are both important and essential for people to conduct their daily lives and achieve important goals.

For example, a core job of a CEO is to communicate her vision throughout her organization. She has many tools she can utilize to deliver her vision including the written and spoken word, companywide meetings and so on. Getting her vision across and reinforcing it is an important job that a CEO does to lead her company to market success.

The important point is: core jobs don’t fundamentally change that much. What changes is HOW to get the job done. This is often by technology. New technologies provide new capabilities to get core jobs done better.

As a consequence, products come and go. They are only solution instances and have limited shelf life. But if we are truly focusing on a set of core jobs to innovate around, we can move from one business “S” curve to the next with a higher degree of certainty that we can create and retain new and existing customers.

The way we do that is to build our innovation strategy and systems (our innovation offense) around important jobs that people do. A jobs-to-be-done based innovation offense allows us to grow along both sustainable (addressing existing customers) and disruptive (creating new customers) innovation types.

Nothing lasts forever: Be ready for change

If you want to play the game (the market you choose to compete for),companies would be wise to create a balanced approach between sustaining and disruptive innovation. As Jack Ma, of Alibaba said:

“In the information era, change is the best equilibrium. No single structure (i.e. development process) is perfect and can solve all problems.”

What does stay stable though, is that people have important jobs they do to achieve specific desired outcomes. If we dive deep into people’s desired outcomes and discover the context and challenges that get in their way achieving their outcomes with 100% satisfaction, we can continue to create value and win the game of attracting and retaining new customers.

In future articles, I’ll layout an innovation strategy called OSTA (Observe, Synthesize, Translate, Act). OSTA is a discover driven based innovation strategy. An OSTA offensive strategy is a derivative of the familiar  OODA decision loop: Observe, Oriented, Decide, Act.

The difference is OSTA is specifically built to create reliable value based around the jobs-to-be-done innovation theory and the Design Thinker’s Trifecta (a.k.a. Design Thinker’s Success Triad).

To win at the game innovation, focus on important jobs people want to get done.


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