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Jobs in 140 Characters or Less

Chris Spiek


This week presented a great opportunity to bring some special guests to the Jobs-to-be-Done Radio Show.

Bob and Chris are joined by John Palmer, who worked with Bob in the early 90s to create the Jobs-to-be-Done Framework, as well as Bob Barrett and Ervin Fowlkes who are colleagues at The Re-Wired Group.

In the middle of an intense two-day working session focused on identifying the Jobs-to-be-Done in some specific situations for two of our clients, we decided to take a break from the work and discuss summarizing a job-to-be-done in 140 characters or less.

In an earlier Twitter exchange on the #JTBD hashtag, Chris took the stance that distilling Jobs down to short phrases and sentences would risk losing the essence of the Job.  Listen to the show to hear John Palmer how it is possible, and necessary to explain Jobs succinctly using images or icons.

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Coming Up Next Week

We’ll unpack some of the interviews that we have conducted in the building space to gain an understanding of how demand dimensions are identified.

Click to view episode transcript.

Episode Transcript

Chris: Hi, and welcome to the latest edition of Jobs to Be Done Radio.
I’m Chris Spiek, and as always I’m here with my partner Bob Moesta. I’m
also here with a group of guys who are actually in the middle of a working
session on a jobs to be done project, and we thought it would be a good
time to record our latest edition. I’m here with Herman Folks
and Bob Barrett who are both with The Re-Wired Group. And also John
Palmer who is a colleague of ours. John along with Bob Moesta could
probably be referred to as one of the people who actually was one of the
creaters of the Jobs to be done framework. We’re gonna go through a couple
topics here and just see where our conversation takes us.

The first thing I wanted to explore was something that was brought up on
Twitter under the hashtag of #JTBD is the idea of summarizing a job in 140
characters or less. We had this notion that once you understand the
essence of what a job is, you should be able to set the complex language
aside, and distill it down to one very descriptive sentence or phrase, that
clearly articulates the job that the user has. John, you had some ideas
around whether that’s flawed or not or whether we should strive to achieve

John Palmer: I think it’s absolutely the right concept. Just to give
you the way I think about it, is that, jobs are filling a void. Jobs are
the market’s future tense. They don’t exist until you bring an innovation
in to fill the void. What you are trying to define, name is the void. You
need new words, so now is the time to take the reality of the market
surveys that led you to identify what the jobs are and create, if you
like, a bold and revolutionary new concept over here; that would be in
opposition to the reality of today. The opposition is going to be the new
reality of tomorrow that you’re going to create when you go after this job.
Here’s where you’ve got to put your designer hat on.

If you were a poet you’d be writing poetry. If you were a painter you
would be painting your most brilliant painting. Now what you’ve got to do
is bring in a new way of seeing the world. You’ve got your reality of the
market research that you’ve done as the basis. Now, can I put my job hat,
on and look at that reality to see how it’s in some way distorted and how
the job would make it right. Jobs are a new icon, a new symbol, that
you’re going to be bringing into the market, a new way of thinking about
the market that will, in fact, show the short comings of the products that
are in the market today.

Bob: When we talk about it, there’s really two sides to it, right? The
first side is, the demand side. Where is the demand created and how is it
created. What are the factors that focus on the demand, right? The second
part is really the hiring framework of, how are they going to go about
hiring to solve that problem or job? It’s the intersection of those two
things, which is, the demand and the hiring that creates the function of
the job. Like you said, it’s the void, but I can’t actually define the
void into the next thing of what they’re trying to get done.

John Palmer: It’s evolutionary.

Bob: That’s correct.

John Palmer: OK. Defining a job is going to be a process. It’s gonna
start with, first, this big idea, this big new idea, this big new icon,
that you’re going to bring into the market. Let me give you an example, a
good one. We’re doing a project in children’s obesity. Have we addressed
children’s obesity? We know that the mom has the emotional stake in the
game. She will do nothing short of offering herself to make sure her
children have the best future. But, the food market has conspired to take
her off course with convenience foods, with healthy foods. Foods aren’t
healthy, human beings are healthy. Mom is trying to make her kids healthy.
That’s the new symbol. What we need is an icon for the job that mom has
to do if she’s gonna get her children back into wellness or to make sure
they stay in wellness.
Let’s think about what I mean by an icon. Let’s think about a
painting. Let’s think about Norman Rockwell’s Thanksgiving painting, if
you can remember that. You’ve got a mom bringing food that she cooked by
herself, on this platter, to a table filled with children or younger people
around the table and it expresses all the values that the job is meant to
express: nourishment, care, the emotion, family and values. Teaching the
children what is good, ‘It’s not fast food children, I made this.’. I’m
not going to give that job a name right now, but that would be the next

Man 1: John, earlier we were talking about the distinction between
treating a sickness versus treating a wellness. Could you elaborate more
on that for us?

John Palmer: Yes, well there’s a good example. That the problem with
food, the food market and the food industry, is it’s been all about trying
to come up with convenient food, whole meal replacement, taking mom out of
the picture. Whereas it should be all about instilling these values into
the upcoming generation. Those young people around that dining room table.
About what the value of food really is. As we take off, it’s
nourishment; it’s good values; it’s looking after yourself; it’s avoiding
the bad stuff and eating the good stuff and being well. That’s why jobs are
a revolutionary concept and they should revolutionize markets. When Bob
says disruption, he’s got the right word. I know he’s not a fan of it but
he’s revolutionary and jobs are revolutionary.

Bob: The notion is, when you focus on sickness, the competition is
different, it’s all about the symptoms, it’s all about focusing on not
necessarily making progress on the holistic side. What you find is that
you solve one problem and create another without looking at, again,
wellness. Part of it is being able to understand the cohesive part of jobs
as opposed to the isolating part of jobs. So we get back to, the job of a
phone is to communicate, that’s not it. All jobs have an emotional,
social, and functional piece to it. It’s the wrapping of all of that
together that helps you have a better value system of how to manage,
design, build, and launch new product.

John Palmer: Let me build on the phone. The phone when it first came in
was called the speaking telegraph because that’s what it did. It took
information at that time was only available on telegraph and converted it
into voice. When it came into the market, it became an anti-environment,
if you’d like. A new way of seeing the limitations of talking to people
only on your street. It allowed people to spread their network. It came
in, soon after that, the car which allowed society to have some entropy to
it. The telephone was an enabler of that, so people could stay in touch.

Chris Spiek: There is a time orientation to the job, I think, is what you’re
saying. At the time that it was created, the job that people had that was
to be done was to connect us better than we’re connected now. Whereas if
we look at phones today, there’s still an element to that, but to say that
your Iphone’s job is to keep you connected, probably doesn’t do a good
enough job articulating . . .

John Palmer: . . . the new iconic symbol of that icon.

Bob: It doesn’t also resonate with the demand that’s out there, what
else you want to do. What else it can do. It doesn’t actually have the
hiring framework, it’s a limitation around the hiring framework because you
hire for a lot of other reasons besides just instability to communicate.
It gets back to Kano’s stuff that the whole idea communicating is become
basic quality but issue is the new performance quality and the excitement
quality all changes as we talk through this because of what your reference
point is and what you’re try to get to.

Chris Spiek: Can you talk through Kano, in 30 seconds, just to give
people an idea of what that is?

Bob: Dr. Kano is a guy from Japan who mapped out, kind of, the way
performance characteristics handle for quality. The notion is that, if you
think about something being fully executed on and I do it awesome or I
don’t do it at all, how satisfied is somebody? The notion is, if you think
of brakes on the car, right? The thing is, if the brakes don’t work I’m
dissatisfied but if the brakes work awesome and I can stop in five feet and
they’re so big and they have all this ventilation and all these other
things. The fact is, people aren’t more satisfied, because the brakes
work. As you start to look through and experience in what people are
trying to get done and understand basic quality or basic performance or
excitement qualities, you don’t need to over-invest in the brakes because
at some point I can make the car stop, but I now hurt gas mileage. And gas
mileage is a performance characteristic. Part of it gets back to being
able to understand, in the moment, as they’re looking to make progress,
what is their definition of progress? What is their hiring criteria and
what is creating demand for them? Kano is a lens that we use to help us,
at least from a design perspective, help make the trade-offs of what’s
important and not important. Was that fast enough?

Chris Spiek: Very fast.

John Palmer: I would just add that naming jobs is a design task. You’ve
gotta put your designer hat on.

Bob: That’s right. It’s not a marketing thing, it’s not a sales thing.
It’s not a research thing.

John Palmer: No, it’s not solving an equation. You’ve gotta design,
you’ve got to be an artist. You’ve gotta think of what’s not there and
express it.

Bob: I think it’s half art, half science. I think it’s half of what’s
there and half of what’s not there. It is being able to articulate those
things together that create what the job is.

Chris Spiek: What are the tools that you use? I’m hesitant to introduce
the word design, demand framework, and hiring framework because we just
jotted them up on the way forward, earlier. Once we put them into this
podcast they’re, kind of, everywhere, but I think that we should at least
talk through them. What are the tools that you would use to design that
jobs language?

John Palmer: The hiring framework is all about how the shopper and all
customers have to be shoppers first. How the shoppers sell himself or
herself on a new idea. We’re in a self-serve market, a self-serve world
where people have the information to make up their own mind. What are the
criteria for hiring the suitable job candidate. That’s the hiring
framework The demand framework is, what are the forces that will shake
demand in the future? We’re talking about what’s next. What’s not today,
what could be tomorrow. What are the forces that will shape the could be,
might be, should be, will be? That’s what demand framework is about.

Bob: The way we go about doing that though is we do interviews about
last consumption moments to be able to understand how they connect and then
play it out. What we’ve been doing pretty much all day today, is
dimensionalizing[SP], listening to interviews, listening to people and
consumers speak but really spending the time to dimensionalize, what are
the forces at play? What are the criteria that are hiring by and
understanding from a technology independent perspective, how do they go
about finding, hiring, using, and consuming new things.

John Palmer: Just to build on that. OK, Bob is a big gun and taught
us this. You’ve got to look at the edges of markets. We go right to the
edge with current behavior and now we have to go and peer over the void.
That’s where the job definition comes in.

Bob: I think it’s an important notion that we look at it as going to
the edge by looking at people who have switched recently. Then, that
defines the new edge that allows us to extrapolate to over the edge and
into the void. Part of it is, even by understanding the edge, we believe
that you can make progress without understand the void, but the whole thing
of peering over and seeing the void is where the disruption happens.

Chris Spiek: So what is that? Is that guesswork? Is it looking at the
data and . . .

Bob: It’s pattern recognition at the end of the day. For me, it’s all
about dimentionalizing and seeing how things connect causally. Having a
causal and descriptive way of looking at the market and looking at demand.
To be able to look and say, here’s how things are going and why things are
going that way. To be able to understand how it affect choices and value
propositions. Ultimately, what’s the value proposition.

Chris Spiek: So, if I can understand what forces are acting on a
consumer at the moment that they make a choice, I can start to put things
into the equation that says, if you chose this, it would be more progress
than what you’re using now or consuming now.

Bob: That’s correct. So, part of it is being able to, again,
dimensionalize based on their behavior. How much of the situation drives
it. How much their history and reference point drives it. How much the
current product set and choices drive it and understanding, kind of, how it
works. It’s the mechanisms. Ultimately, John and I have talked about the
mechanisms of value is trying to understand those mechanisms of value
beyond the product.

John Palmer: The value I would like to emphasize here is the value of
making progress. Making progress in life. Making progress in you
personality. Making progress in your persona. That’s the language of
jobs. It’s the language of progress.

Bob: It’s progress making movement that we’re trying to understand.
What are those progress making acts that people take and where’s a bold
progress making action. That’s ultimately what we’re trying to do with

Chris Spiek: There’s one thing that we might actually need help with
from other people is that we always throw around the word dimensionless.
We’ve talked about this a lot in past podcasts but there’s a certain art to
creating a dimension and being able to listen to. Whether it’s a recorded
phone interview, an online video interview, or a face-to-face conversation
and actually be able to visualize, write down, and record an energy or
dimension that is acting on a person, as they describe a situation to you.
That’s one thing where we throw that word around a lot, and I think people
that listen and follow jobs think that’s the secret sauce or the black box,
but that’s one thing that I think we need to work on, as far as, a method.

Man 1: My suggestion is maybe we take some of the warm-up stuff we have
from one our recent ones on people moving; and we slow it down and we
actually kind of pin-point and show basically, here this part, stop it,
talk about the dimension. Here’s what the dimension looks like and then
basically, help people dimensionalize the behavior and the movement.

Chris Spiek: It won’t be a step-by-step process on how to identify
dimension. At least their will be examples that people can follow.

Man 1: Right.

John Palmer: Just to say, I think that today, for instance, from the
few projects that we went around, this in commonality of cross-markets that
are very, very diverse, I think that you can come back with some pretty
clear starter kit for how to describe what these dimensions are.

Man 2: John, I had another question. I’m kind of curious at what point
in a business life cycle do they need to gauge the jobs to be done

John Palmer: I don’t think that it’s a life cycle. It’s a growth
orientation. Is the company gonna play out the historical sales curve, the
historical processes, the historical information. Are they going to go get
a fresh lead on the market about what’s not there. Then, come up with the
jobs map against which they can innovate. It’s their readiness to be
revolutionary in their own right and say, we’re going where no one else has
gone by going after tomorrow’s market.

Bob: The thing is, is that it gets back to sustaining innovation and
disruptive innovation. I think that the fact that you can use jobs to help
you in sustaining, but the reality is, the ultimate thing is it shows you
where you can disrupt the market, where there’s non-consumption. Where
people want to consume but they’re not. Or where the boundaries are for
the market to be able to say when do they move into a different category or
when do things really compete in the same spaces. What happens is most of
the work we do, we help people see way beyond their categories, so they’re
not thinking about packaged goods. They’re not in the juice aisle anymore.
What are juices used for? They compete with milk and all over the store.
You start to realize that we’re software like CRM, they say it competes
with excel, it competes with all these other things. You start to realize
that it [paper and pencil].

Part of it is to recover true competition where the boundaries are and
where is the next leap they are willing to make. It gets back to when a
lot of times people engage is when they’re at the edge and they’ve tried
everything and nothing is moving the needle. We’ve launched 15 new
products and we’re just treading water and we’re not really making any
difference. We’ve got excess capacity in this technology and we’ve got
these kinds of things, but we can’t crack what’s next. So, people will
engage us to help figure out what’s next and then how to design products to
make sure that we can tap into that demand.

Chris Spiek: The other pattern I think we’ve identified over the past is
that we have a lot of top companies and industries hiring us. It’s
typically the number one player in a category that has been able to
innovate in the past, do line extensions, revisions and iterative
improvements to their product up to a certain point. Then they’re feeling
some force, whether it’s competition or regulation or something that’s
impacting their position where they come back and say, we need a completely
new way of thinking and a new way to innovate around new ideas. We can’t
just continue on the path that we’re on.

Bob: What’s interesting is that those top companies that have some
notion of the innovators’ dilemma. They know going up market and they’ve
been trying to go up market. They’re either getting there but they’re
hitting the ceiling that they know they need to go down market. They don’t
know how to go down market and they don’t know how to find down market, and
they don’t know how to make the trade-offs to make the products or services
work down market. That’s what the job framework helps is to be able to
say, how good does it really need to be to disrupt and cause people to
switch or people who don’t consume to consume. What’s the minimum we have
to do to stay profitable. Most people want to over-engineer the product
for the low end and it doesn’t work.

Chris Spiek: Awesome. As always you can follow me on twitter @ChrisCBS
follow Bob @BMoesta. I’ll post everybody else’s info up their as well. I’d
say if you’re looking to keep up with the latest trends in jobs to be done
follow the JTBD# on twitter. If you’re new to this and you want a lot of
background information, go to We have the jobs to be
done page there with a lot of great resources. We’ll see you next time.

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