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Clay Christensen on Jobs-to-be-Done & OpenTable

Chris Spiek

This week Bob and Chris are honored to be joined by Clayton Christensen  on Jobs-to-be-Done Radio.  Clay discusses why he thinks the JTBD framework is so important and talks through how it is used to understand causality and what drives consumer to buy.

He also uses OpenTable as an example of a company that has experienced success by nailing the job-to-be-done  and understanding the progress-making-forces at play when making a reservation at a restaurant.

Also, be sure to check out Taddy Hall’s recent article in Time:  Differentiation: A Surprising Story of Sameness.

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Coming Up Next Week

We’ll be joined by Tom McBrien, an intern at The Re-Wired Group to discuss our method of pulling out dimensions and coding interviews.

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Episode Transcript

Chris: Hello, and welcome to the latest edition of Jobs to be Done radio.
I’m Chris Spek and as always, I am joined by my partner Bob Moesta

Bob: Hey, whats up?

Chris: We’re going to take you to some audio that we recently recorded. we
made a trip out to Boston to see Clay Christianson, we do that about once a
quarter. We took some friends out there with us, Jason Fried, Lauren
Lackey, Mike McBrian and our other partner Brian Tolle and asked Clay some
questions about his interpretations of Jobs to be Done and why he thinks
it’s important to the market. Before we dive into that, I do want to
mention that we have an event upcoming on October first in Chicago,
Illinois at the headquarters of 37signals. You can read about on the
37signals blog, Signal Versus Noise. I believe we have a couple of seats
left, they are filling up quick, so if you’re interested in that you can go
on my Twitter feed and Bob’s Twitter feed you’ll see the link there. I
think as of now there’s…

Bob: Jason just said nine left.

Chris: Nine spots left. We are capping it at 24. This is a prototype. We’re
going to go in and talk about the ‘switching moment’ which is something
that Jason has picked up on and zoomed in on with regards to the whole Jobs
to be Done framework. That’s something that he thinks is very powerful, so
we are going to do a whole day-session on how people switch to your
product, and how they switch away from your product and the forces at play

Bob: And how to question people. It’s going to be the kind of interview
conversations that you’ve got to have. I think that it’s going to be a lot
of fun

Chris: Absolutely.

Bob: The other thing I wanted to mention about was Teddy’s article in Time
this week. I thought it was really, really good.

Chris: Yeah, he talks about differentiation. A brief summary of the article
is that he goes into how we as product developers and marketers can become
myopic to our category and our competitors and start to view improvement
with regards to new features and new benefits purely relative to the
closest competition, or the competition that’s right around us. The big
point that he makes is that, as important as we think those features are,
consumers don’t shop that way and don’t buy that was. So if you’re going to
add ten percent more flavor to your fruit juice or whatever it is, it’s
just not what’s pushing people to buy and not how they view competition. He
goes into that differentiation and evaluates that, and then talks about how
the Jobs to be Done approach is different than that and looks at
competition across categories.

Bob: It’s a great article.

Chris: Great article. It’s in Time, and if you want to find it, he is
@taddyhall on twitter, and there’s a link right on his Twitter feed right
to that Time article.

Bob: He’s with Nielson and the Cambridge group. He wrote the marketing
malpractice article with Clay, back a couple of years ago in the Harvard
Business Review.

Chris: So look that up at HBR

Bob: Yep.

Chris: So with that, we’ll leave you for about the next 15 minutes with
Clay Christianson.

Bob: So we have two questions for you for the Podcast, alright? Why is the
Jobs to be Done an important framework to you?

Clay: The Jobs to be Done framework is important to me because I need to
understand causality in my life. If I try to understand the world by
collecting data, the problem is that data is available only about the past.
It can measure the result but not the cause. If I have a company and I want
to know if people are going to buy my product, if I get information about
you- here I am, Clay, I turned 60 years old unfortunately, our youngest
child went to college unfortunately, and I live in the suburbs, I work at a
place like this, so these are all characteristics about myself. But, these
characteristics have not caused me to go out and buy the New York Times

Bob: Right.

Clay: There might be a correlation between these characteristics and the
propensity to buy the New York Times, but it doesn’t cause me to do it.
What causes me to buy it, is the job, a job just arose in my life that I
need to get done, and I go out and I find something that will get the job
done, that’s the “causal mechanism”. In innovation, if I want to know that
customers are going to buy my product or not, I’ve got to understand the
job. That’s the unit of analysis. Can I go on?

Bob: Yeah, please.

Clay: The problem isn’t just with Jobs to be Done, but In almost every
dimension of management, the business schools have evacuated from the core.
I mean, I studied marketing a lot. To me, the Jobs to be Done concept is
the core of marketing, It’s the essence of what you’ve got to understand.
And Ted Levitt who taught on our faculty…

Chris: Yeah!

Clay: He taught that, people don’t want a quarter-inch drill, they want a
quarter-inch hole.

Bob: Yep.

Clay: And Ted Levitt said that the customer is rarely buying what the
company thinks it’s selling. But if you look at the curriculum of marketing
in any business school, the core idea of Jobs to be Done isn’t taught. The
reference to Ted Levitt that people want a quarter-inch hole is never
taught. They have all of these peripheral techniques, but they don’t. And
that’s just in marketing. In operations, one of the two or three core ideas
is focus. The concept of focus isn’t in our curriculum. There’s another
one, which is, I’ve got to be sure that I get the right people in the right
spots at the right time. That’s the essence of management, it’s a core
principle. There is no course at the Harvard business school on how to hire
the right people. And we could go on, right? And so this is a core idea
that is the causal mechanism at the core of marketing and nobody teaches it
except you and me.

Man1: Why is that? Why do you think it’s gotten away from that? Is this
some new concept? When you hear about it, and Bob’s explained it to me, and
it makes so much sense. Why do you think marketing has strayed from that
matter of fact.

Clay: I have no idea.

Man1: No idea? Okay.

Clay: It might be that it is so intuitively obvious, that you can’t study
it. You can;t do papers in academic journals because this is just so
obvious. I don’t know what the reason is but it’s truly a nutsy…

Bob: For the most part, whenever we do work, it’s either with the business
owner, or it’s with the product research people because the product
research people are interested in causal mechanism, but you find that the
marketing people, I believe, a lot of it has to do with that their job
primarily is to buy media, and that demographics and psycho-graphics are
how media is bought. I buy from this magazine because they hit the 24-38
year old female that does blah blah- But, if they don;t have that data they
don’t know how to buy media, and their primary job is to buy media, not to
develop products.

Clay: Yeah, yeah.

Bob: So I think that the purpose is very different, and its the analogy of,
they have a gasoline engine in there and demographics works in it, but we
have a rocket engine and gasoline doesn’t work in it.

Clay: Yeah

Bob: So I think that’s kind of where we come out. So why is it so important
for disruptive innovation?

Clay: Why is Jobs to be Done such an important concept in disruption?

Bob: That’s correct

Clay: Because, if I want to successfully create a new product or a new
business, there are several really important issues or questions that
you’ve got to address correctly. The idea of disruption is focusing on an
issue which is, how can I be sure that I kill my competitors rather than
the competitors killing me? And the theory of disruption gives a you the
answer which is, If you come underneath them, they profit by giving you the
low end over and over again because every time they get out of the low end
their profitability improved when they got out. If you’re a little boy and
you want to kill a giant, just define a fight where the giant is motivated
to flee rather than fight. So that’s what disruption is about. But then
there’s a totally different question which is, I hope I’ve made a product
or service that the customers will buy. That’s the answer, or the theory,
that helps us with that question. There are two independent studies for
this. So in my studies of excavators and disk drives, if your strategy was
disruptive, the probability that you would succeed increased from 6% to
35%. That comes from neutralizing the co,petition. And then, Johnson- or
P&G under Lafly really changed the religion around there in new product
development to focus on Jobs to be Done. Lafly said in a talk to our
students that the probability of the new products that J and J or P&G
introduces to the market historically, when you focus on the customer, 15
percent were successful, under Jobs to be Done it’s 50% successful.

Bob: Wow.

Clay: And so, if you add up those two effects, 16 to 35 for disruption and
15 to 50 for Jobs to be Done, there’s interaction between them.

Bob: That’s right.

Clay: Which tells me that the probability of success moves from 10 to 20%
to 60% to 70%. So big, big issues.

Bob: Well, it gets back to being able to define non-consumption because old
marketing terms don’t address the non-consumption where people want to buy
or want to use, but choose not to. By going to the low end, you focus on a
completely different set of mechanisms of why people choose. It’s the
switching. Jason has picked up on the notion that we always talk about. The
struggling moment and the switch He feels the pearl in all this is really
the notion of studying how people switch and why do they fire and why do
they hire new things.

Clay: Yeah.

Bob: And we do it every day, and we do it as – like you said it’s almost so
obvious, but at the same time, it’s right in front of us and we can’t see

Clay: That’s right. The reason I hate you so much. Is that I see Bob Moesta
everywhere. Whenever you see something, and somebody nailed the job to be
done, or just missed the job to be done I think “damn, there’s Bob Moesta
again” for example, Open Table.

Bob: Yeah. Our reservations tonight we’re doing on that.

Clay: Right? So what do those guys do? It’s just such a pain to make all of
those phone calls to find a restaurant that has space for me at the time we
want to go there for the number of people that we do, and this guy’s can’t
so you call your wife and she says “well, we have to go at that time” so
you… Just think about how many phone calls you’ve got to make. And the
guys said “oh, clearly there’s a Job to be Done here if people are always
making these phone calls. And you just-

Bob:It does a job.

Clay: Yeah. When you see a school dramatically improve the outcomes of
their students, it’s because Bob goes in and says ‘school isn’t a job.
School is something that you can hire to get the job done, but that’s not
the job.” He’s studied it. The job is that everyday students need to feel
successful. Every day they need to feel successful. And sure, I could hire
school to feel successful, but I could drop out of school, or join a game
to feel successful.

Bob: That’s right

Clay: Or, drop out and buy a car and cruise around the neighborhood all day
to feel successful. So when school administrators get that, then it’s very
clear how you improve the schools. It turns out that we’ve been improving
the schools on dimensions of management that are irrelevant to the job for-

Bob: Right. For years, for years.

Clay: Yeah, so you don’t look like you’ve had a big impact. But you have.

Bob: Thank you.

Chris: So, what’s your take-away?

Bob: The thing that’s really powerful, and it just articulates the
frustration and how we see it in the market is that, part of this is just
so basic and at the core of what it is, and again, a lot of people look at
it and say ‘it’s just so simple and we don’t need to know that’ or it’s
kind of assumed what it is. When you start to talk to consumers about what
competition is to them you realize it’s just completely different.

Chris: Yeah.

Bob: The comparison of two things across categories is just phenomenal. One
of the things I keep talking about is that, people say ‘you’ve been doing
this for so long and you hear all these stories and you do all these
interviews, do you have a repertoire of what the jobs are?’ And I don’t.
You and I talk about ‘we just need to empty our mind going in to an
interview’ because the thing is, any preconceived notions leads us to a
different place and part of it is, why did you pick that product? Right?

Chris: Yeah

Bob: What you find out is that- Trying to understand the causal mechanism.
I think Clay’s point, which is really the bigger issue to me, is that it’s
all about causal mechanisms and being able to say ‘how do I create fun?
It’s not that they want fun, that might be the ultimate result, but the
reality is that we need to be able to figure out how to cause fun. So what
I want to know is, tell me what the last fun situation was, and tell me
what made it fun, so I can actually design fun into the product. Not ‘ooh,
it’s got to be fun and I don’t know what to do.’ From a product developer
prospective, we have to be accountable to create these thing to happen,
these outcomes.

Chris: So the other thing about it is, we pick on the word ‘fun’ a lot,

Bob: That and magic.

Chris: …That and magic, they are banned words in our office, we pick on
them a lot. But we can continue going down that path. The first thing is,
from the causality perspective, first we need to understand why fun, the
experience of fun would cause someone to switch. This gets back to the
switching mechanism. As much as we want to say that we want to add ‘fun’ to
the product or we want to add ‘exciting’ or ‘adventurous’, those are
typically pretty generic adjectives. But, even if you get down to more
concrete adjectives like ‘easy-to-use,’ ‘faster,’ things like that, first
we need to understand what causal role that plays in the consumers mind
before they purchase, and secondly how exactly we as product developers, or
engineers, or solution providers can create the correct mechanism of ‘fun’
or ‘easy; or fast’. It also connects back to when Clay talks about it being
intuitively obvious, and I can;t help but think that we focus so much on
asking the right questions and making sure that we dig deep and get really
deep answers that we can think about. Part of me thinks, on the marketing
side of things, it is all about finding bigger markets and finding bigger
spaces. The secret sauce in that world is being able to correctly aggregate
these things together and it almost leads us to skip over the obvious part
that he’s referring to. So, instead of really drilling into the insight and
understand why people have switched and then starting to pull jobs out of
that, we focus too much on putting things together and making sure we have
big enough markets.

Bob: That’s right, that’s right. The one thing to me, also- again we’ll be
kind of – we had almost three and a half, four hours with Clay and we
recorded most of it, so we’re going to dice it up and give you a little bit
at a time here. But, one of the things that was just so powerful was, Clay
always has the most elegant way of saying things. There was that statement
where he basically said ‘questions is a place in the mind, where the
solutions are waiting to go’. That whole notion that a question is like a
place and it’s not a thing, but it’s a place and that if I give you the
solution too early, it just bounces off the brain, and if you’re not asking
the right questions’- and so for me, his comment that Jobs is so powerful,
because we’re just asking some of those basic questions that now we have a
place to be able to put the solutions.

Chris: Yeah. I think some credit- so he talks a lot about how people only
learn when they’re ready to learn, and if you haven’t listened to Clay’s
podcast, The Critical Path, when he had..

Bob: Horace’s podcast. He had Clay on it.

Chris: I’m sorry, Horace’s podcast, and he has Clay on as a guest and they
spend a lot of time talking about how businesses are also the same way, how
businesses only learn when they’re ready to learn. That’s a very powerful

Bob: Right, right. I think the Open Table example is- it’s one of those
things where we’re always looking for examples of where people struggle,
and that struggling moment is the seed of innovation and that Open Table is
such a perfect example of that. When Clay goes into that it’s really good.
I think that the notion is that we need to find where customers struggle
and where they want something, or that their struggling is giving them some
notion of that. That resistance, is that they care, they’re trying to do
something else, it represents a body of energy that they’re trying to use
to make progress. To me, those are the really important things. Again, Open
Table is that obvious thing that, when you see it, you’re like, Oh my God,
that’s exactly right. But in the way we look at jobs, we ask tell me about
the last time you struggled about something’ and people would bring it up.
Part of it is that struggling moment is what is the crucial aspects of
Jobs, and what we call non-consumption.

Chris: The other thing that’s been coming up a lot lately that I think is
really powerful is that bottom half of the forces diagram. If the listeners
can envision the forces diagram with the push on the top as well as the
pull of the new situation and the counteracting forces, or barriers, on the
bottom, we’ve changed it to the familiarity with your habits, or the
familiarity with the present solution and then the other side is the
anxiety of the future, of the new solution. And something like Open Table
does such a great job of addressing that bottom half. And what we’re
recognizing is that more and more successful products, it’s like as much as
you can dangle something in front of someone to get that pull, as much push
as they can add from their current solution, until you get that bottom half
addressed, they’re not going to switch, they’re not going to use it. Open
Table is a great example. There’s typically no shortage of attraction to
going out to eat. This is something that people want to do all the time.
But when you look at the anxiety with regards to ‘well first I have to make
plans with people’ like Clay says, ‘I have to make plans, and I;m going to
tell them all a specific time, and then I’ve got to hunt down a restaurant.
If the time doesn’t work, I’ve got to call everybody back’ that’s that
emotional energy that we always talk about where, nobody would explicitly
come out and tell you ‘yeah, I hate making reservations’ its just not
something that anyone would talk about. But, if you talk about the last
time people made reservations, you get enough stories where you could pull
out that energy.

Bob: That’s right, that’s right. I don’t really have anything else for this
week. We’ve got a lot of different things- one of the things we’ll do next
week is, I’d like to get Tom, who is one of our interns who goes to the
university of Michigan, we’ve been having him code all summer here in terms
of looking at videos and we’d like to get him on before he leaves. He knew
nothing about Jobs coming in and he’s really done a great job in terms of
being able to understand and co- and help us analyze the data that we see
from the videos that we get around the Jobs interviews that we do. I want
to get him on so that those that are practitioners can get a better feel of
somebody who’s- He’ll be a sophomore, he’s just a freshman so he is early
in his educational career, but I want to get him on to talk about what he
has learned, because I think its that kind of reflective learning that’s

Chris: There are a lot of software people that listen to this program. For
me the word ‘coding’ is different than how we use it for Jobs to be Done.
So, what does that mean?

Bob:Coding is- we actually break each assignment we give to people down
into very discreet, in some cases second-by-second-

Chris: Slices

Bob: Slices. we slice things so thin, and then based on those slices we
look at things like, ‘where is the emotion? Where is the push? where is the
pull? is it positive? is it negative? is it emotional energy? is it
physical? what’s holding them? what’s pushing them?’. We are looking at all
the different kinds of things and actually trying to build the causal
theory of where is the contradiction between what they say and what they
do. So he has been really embroiled and embedded in help us slice it and
code it, and put it into a spreadsheet. Then we apply a bunch of math to
it, which is my fun part. I love to play with the math.

Chris: So, just to say it another way, the analysis piece is watching an
initial set of videos, and pulling out the dimensions. We literally have a
list of attributes that say ‘in all of these videos, we’re hearing these
certain attributes and giving them levels’ and the coding piece of it is
really watching every video, time slicing them apart and saying ‘this kind
of emotion was in this video and this kind of emotion was in that video’.
We essentially have a database of information that we can go back and

Bob: Right. It’s not even that kind of emotion, its saying ‘going into the
situation, they were feeling this, and they were emotionally charge, and
they were this way, and as they were thinking about buying, they were
emotionally charged this way, or they were neutral.

Chris: So it’s levels

Bob: It’s literally levels, and it’s time sliced, and again, because we’re
trying to slow down and build, as Clay would say, that causal theory. I
think it will be interesting to see- and Tom’s learning a little bit about
the math, but he’s been doing most of the looking at the videos and coding.
So we will get his take on it. Again, we can’t reveal what the research was
about, but more what the analysis is about so we get a feel for those kinds
of things.

Chris: So If it’s confusing now tune back in and it will be clearer next

Bob: Hopefully it will be clearer next time, that’s right.

Chris: We are going to continue to throw these clips of our conversions
with clay into the podcast, so for the next couple of weeks we’ll have
Clay’s thoughts on Jobs to be Done, which will be worth coming back for. As
always, follow the #JTBD hashtag on Twitter and give us your two cents
there, go sign up for the event, if you haven’t already, and we will talk
to you soon.

Bob: Yep.

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  1. Pingback: The Job of UX | Andrew A. Ward

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