If you have been following the “jobs-to-be-done” innovation framework, chances are you have heard this famous line Theodore Levitt wrote in his seminal article Marketing Imagination:
“People don’t buy quarter inch drills, they buy quarter inch holes.”
It’s really quite a simple and powerful concept – people do jobs to achieve important outcomes. And as Clayton Christensen added – when they become aware of their important jobs, they will hire (buy) products and services to get their job done better, faster and cheaper.
Okay, we all get the wisdom behind Levitt’s observation, right? Yet we still get trapped in thinking we are in the business to make drills, not holes. For example, we and our competitors focus on making our drill bits sharper than the previous generation of bits.
But the previous generation of bits are already sharp enough. Customers don’t need sharper bits, and aren’t willing to pay a higher price for a new drill bit that doesn’t significantly get their job done of making holes better. So we and the competitors slash our prices because they aren’t selling.
Clayton Christensen calls incremental improvements “sustaining” innovation where we improve products along specific performance dimensions. And in a growing product category – who could possibly argue this strategy? Under circumstances where a category is growing, customers are looking for more/better/same. It would be a missed opportunity on our part not to incrementally improve our products to exploit the demand curve.
Unfortunately nothing last forever. Product categories will eventually reach maturity and demand will decline. But we continue to compete with the competitors using the same old marketing and development plays that have brought us success up till now.
The R&D money invested in making bits sharper provided no significant differentiation or value in the eyes of the customer. It was wasted R&D resources and time on launching a “me-too” product. Customers aren’t willing to pay more for something they don’t need. So we end up lowering prices and offering discounts to keep sales going for as long as we can.
It’s a race to the bottom – margins shrink, products commoditize, and the once mighty drill bit maker drops out the industry because they thought they were in the business of making drill bits, not making holes.
We help customers get the job of making holes done better and faster
What if the drill bit companies had reframed their business from the jobs-to-be-done perspective? Would they have been able to discover new opportunities and create innovative new solutions to help people with the important job of making holes get it done better, faster, and cheaper?
Would they have observed that the job of making holes varies greatly depending on the circumstance a job executor faces? That in some circumstances traditional drill bits simply will not work no matter how sharp they are? Could they have developed an innovative product to address restricting circumstances?
Or, depending on the circumstance, the real frustration a hole makers face is setting up the initial pilot mark? The hole maker might need to drill a hole in a precise location, but he struggles to mark the location and punch a pilot mark.
Or the hole maker needs to make holes that are perpendicular, but because of the circumstances, the hole maker can’t keep his drill on line? He ends up with holes that are off perpendicular resulting in wasted material and frustration.
Or perhaps the real job-to-be-done is not to make holes at all! The real job is to attach a sub component to a chassis a manufacturer has to get done. The job executor chose to use a 1/4- 20 bolt and nut because that’s how they always have assembled parts in his shop.
If it’s an important job to be done, and manufacturing customers need to do a lot, could the drill maker create a drill that also taps the hole to eliminate the nut? Or think differently about the core job (attach this sub assembly to a top-assembly and create a better solution to get the job done?
For example self-tapping bolts? Or a riveting solution, or press and snap solution. Depending on the circumstances (i.e. the materials that need to be attached), a nailing or staple solution?
Or maybe it doesn’t require a hole or bolt at all. A welding operation might be better. Or an adhesive. Or maybe a redesign of the packaging to integrate the subassembly right into the main top-assembly.
Understanding the job-to-be-done opens up opportunities for new innovation
If the drill maker only sees his world as making drills, he loses focuses on the true job people want to get done: Making holes. And if the drill maker doesn’t probe deeper in understanding the circumstances people face in making holes, he will limit his ability to innovate and launch products that customers will value and hire to make holes better, faster and cheaper.
And if the drill maker doesn’t further probe and understand the real problems customers faces, he will miss out on creating breakout products – because he didn’t understand that “making holes” wasn’t the ultimate job to be done, but rather a sub job that could be eliminated in executing a primary job.
The moral of the story
I leave you with this quote from Brad Smith, President & CEO of Intuit:
“Don’t Fall In Love With Your Solution, Fall In Love With The Problem Your Customers Are Trying To Solve”
Lose your product oriented lens and start seeing the world through the jobs-to-be-done lens. When you focus on your products and solutions, you begin to lose touch with the real problems and challenges people face in achieving their ultimate desired outcomes.
You also lose the ability of understanding why people are hiring your products in the first place. It may not be for what you think it is. It may be for something very different and far more important to your customer and lucrative for your firm.
What is the ultimate desired outcome people and organizations are trying to accomplish? What jobs do they do to achieve their desired outcome? What gets in their way of achieving 100% satisfaction in achieving their outcome? What innovations can you create to help them get their important jobs done to achieve their desired outcome?
Think this way – and you will become an innovation engine creating products that will attract and retain loyal customers, because you help them get important jobs done better than alternative solutions.
Here’s to being in love with problems!