It's more than just Milkshakes. Get the latest on Jobs-to-be-Done here.

Teaching How to Think vs Teaching What to Think

Bob Moesta

This week we continue to share audio of a recent trip to Boston to visit Clayton Christensen. Clay shares the story of when Andy Groves of Intel asked him to explain how disruption would affect his company.  He reinforces for us the concept that when applying a framework such as Jobs-to-be-Done, it’s always important to show people how to think, not what to think.

A framework such as Jobs-to-be-Done should give you a common language and a common way to frame the problem so that you can reach consensus around a counter-intuitive course of action.

This week we also say farewell to Tom McBrien, the 2012 Summer Intern at the Re-Wired Group.  Tom walks us through his experience at Re-Wired, including his take on how Jobs-to-be-Done helped him understand the importance of causality, how it prompted him to think hard about the job that he was hiring college for, and how it eventually prompted him reconsider his major at the University of Michigan.

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Episode Transcript

Chris Spiek: Hello and welcome to the latest edition of Jobs-To-Be-Done
Radio. We’re here for our 10th episode which is big time. I’m here as
always with my partner Bob Moesta. I’m Chris Spiek; we are also joined
today by Ervin Fowlkes, who is another one of our partners here at the
Rewired Group and our intern, Tom McBrien. So as promised from the last
episode we are going to talk to Tom a little bit about his experience here
at the Rewired Group being the intern, soaking in as much Jobs-To-Be-Done
information as possible; as well as the recent process that he went through
which is helping us code some qualitative data that we gathered in a recent
Jobs-To-Be-Done project.

We had a huge response to last week’s episode which included some audio of
a recent trip that we took to Boston to see Clay Christensen so that went
over really well. We’re going to continue that so we will leave you with
the last half of this week’s episode with some audio from that time that we
spent with Clay because we know everybody wants to hear that.

Bob Moesta: Right I think this one is going to focus on more about Clay’s
comments around not teaching people what to think but teaching them how to
think and I think from whether implicitly or explicitly I think we bringing
Tom on-board as the intern I think that’s what our goal was not to teach
him kind of what the answer is but how to get to the answer and hopefully
through the process of being our intern you were able to get there. So
welcome Tom.

Tom McBrien: Thank you.

Chris Spiek: So Tom when you start, why don’t you tell us a little bit
about what you have learned about Jobs-To-Be-Done so far and how you have
applied it.

Tom McBrien: Okay well I’m Tom, so I’m Tom McBrien, I will be a sophomore
at University of Michigan this year. This has been a really interesting
experience at Jobs-To-Be-Done. Coming in I had really not a lot of business
or consulting experience and I knew a little bit about Jobs-To-Be-Done, I
read the whole Milk Shake Story and a couple of Clay articles and a couple
of articles from you guys but not a lot of experience and it was a pretty
steep learning curve but it was very experience based which definitely
helped me and I guess the biggest things I really took out of it, there are
few things. One of those was the importance of causality in everything and
you know this is, I see this day to day in our work here but I have also
been able to kind of apply to my life which I will talk about it a bit

But just how, where you’re at is one point of data, but the trends that are
pushing you are so much more important to kind of get back to realize to
see the projection of where you’re going and likewise if you’re looking at
a product or you’re looking at a company or you know what you’re looking
at, how important that whole causality factor is. So that was really big
thing and the other big thing was knowing how to ask the right question. I
feel like a lot of times in my life and a lot of times what I see with
people is they jump on the first question they find and they go and they
spend so much time and energy and money trying to answer that question only
to realize at the end that that’s not even helpful, that’s not the question
they should have asked. So a lot of what Jobs-To-Be-Done is taught me
through the causality and through asking the right question has been able
to step back and really look at the underlying factors to be able to make
the best decision.

Bob Moesta: I think we talked about that today when we were kind of
analyzing the data, I think Irwin you brought it up it’s like Okay how long
do you sit here and try to piece it together to get that final causality
and again I don’t think the causality has ever final but it’s a framework
to be able to just help you understand you know kind of what’s happening,
why is it happening and what are the things that we can do to either help
people hire or fire what they have and so by understanding that causality
it’s just very, it’s not easy and Clay call’s it all the time theory
building, again we have spent pretty much all day today looking at videos,
you have coded the data. We will talk about coding maybe in a little bit
but we are coding that data. Looking at kind of applying some math to the
data, all these different things and in the end it’s trying to look at from
so many different perspectives to say what’s the essence of what’s going on

Tom McBrien: Yeah and it’s a tough process to do, it’s tougher than you
would think and down to the essence of something but.

Chris Spiek: It’s very tough, I think the hard part is you don’t know when
you’re done and so at some point it’s like when you look at it from six
different directions and it kind of all looks the same from those different
directions, you can say this is it and when you can find something that
holds true on most of the situations, you’re talking about is like Okay
this is the essence of how it works and I think that was our struggle today
is you know we have one look and like yeah but this doesn’t work now, Okay
if that doesn’t work now how do we think about it differently and so it’s
that back and forth that we have to do. To me it’s the work, that’s the
real thinking work, the hard part of jobs but it’s a pretty simple concept
to get but to actually get to the essence is a lot of hard work.

Tom McBrien: I think there are couple, so there is tools that we use to do
it, all right. I mean we saw a lot of them in action today, one I think is
when you look at the question that you’re trying to answer. We are
constantly looking at the boundaries we are working with right and saying
that we are going to start to go down a path and then you end up some place
and you say, yeah we found something here but it’s not really what we set
out to initially answer. So do we keep going on that path or do we bring it
back to what we are initially trying to ask.

Chris Spiek: The importance of setting up the job study is that again you
just think hard about that question and then as you go and get the data
it’s you want to make sure you’re still, you might find a lot of other
things along the way but you need to make sure you stay true to that
question you were originally trying to answer.

Tom McBrien: Yeah and I think something helps with staying true that and
with, you know you’re doing a lot of abstract thinking and I have never
considered myself much of a math person. I have always been good at math
but I have never enjoyed it. I have never enjoyed math as much as I did
here just because of the practicality and it’s not, we are not writing
calculus at this stage you know. Math really has helped us to just organize
our thoughts you know graph them.

Chris Spiek: Yeah.

Tom McBrien: Assign numerical values to different forces that we see or
different options or choices that people make and just how much clear that
makes this whole process because we are talking, I mean we’re almost like
to the level of philosophy some of the things we’re talking about. But that
we’re able to quantify that stuff, it’s powerful and so clarifying.

Chris Spiek: It gives you that reality check I think in one aspect and then
it also gives us in the room at least the ability to talk about things that
are really abstract. So you take like you say a philosophical idea and take
it down Okay this time is this divided by this equals this and we can also
hear and say does that make sense or do we need to move something around or
does it really hold true.

Chris Spiek: The key to me about the math is that it helps us to find
relationships and so as much as we can talk about abstract ideas, jobs is
again is about causality and that causality can be defined in relationships
in math and so math is just, to me I think of math is the language of
causality. So it’s a way what you say does this cause that or does – does
this goes up, does this go down, how do these two things relate? It’s all
about the relationship so to me, words don’t do a justice it’s just that
they don’t.

Tom McBrien: So try to make it a little bit more concrete for the listener
without going into confidential space, I think the way we usually end up
using the math is that we will be watching either recorded videos around
qualitative research that we have done or listening to phone interviews and
we’ll stop and literally throw something up on the white board that says,
this is the energy that the user is putting in times the energy that the
product is providing over some other effect equals this and we can all kind
of stop and think about that but it’s, the math is only a result of
absorbing forces that the consumer is experiencing right. So it’s just a
way to illustrate that or way to communicate it rather.

Chris Spiek: So I mean let’s try to make it concrete let’s say in the
moving terms. So again we are thinking about, in a lot of cases we’re
always thinking about our people being pushed from their old situation to
the new situation or they are being pulled to the new situation and so you
got to be able to look at it and say moving is a function of what and it
really gets back to is how bad is it in the current situation and how bad
do they see it in the future right and it really has to be greater than the
anxiety of actually moving and so we sit there and say how hard is it for
you to move and as we ask the question how hard was it for them to move, if
it was really big let’s say what did you do to get it down and part of it
is to look at and say how does their ability to reduce moving anxiety or
boy I gave this away or I did this as moving anxiety went down boy and the
push went up they were able to move irrelevant of how attractive the new
home was and so it’s trying to define relationship through this math, and
it allows us to have conversations that we really I would say challenge
ourselves not to have just in abstract word terms.

So it’s that relationship that I think really kind of the key to it and the
coding helps and so the best way to describe the coding is it’s think
slicing of video by in some cases just watching somebody tell the story of
them switching from one thing to the other and characterizing what about it
you know what’s that story look like in terms of push, pull, emotions all
the different aspects to it so in a lot of cases we are trying to teach
empathy so you can empathize with that person who is telling the story and
actually answer better questions to help us from the math perspective.

Tom McBrien: Right and every story there, it’s a sequence of choices people
make and a sequence of outside factors that are forced upon them and I
found that and we found that we can quantify most of these choices and most
of these outside forces, so did you, you know do this or did you do this
there are really two choices. We can assign a zero if they stayed the same
or one if they change. How are you feeling before, how are you feeling
during and after. Each time depending on their mood you can assign them a
negative three, they are very negative, positive to very positive and you
know through these numbers and afterwards we can do some crunching.

Chris Spiek: Right.

Tom McBrien: And it’s amazing you have all these stories and none of them,
a lot of them aren’t even similar. The people are so different, the
situations are so different but you get these patterns and with the math
you can see these patterns and you look back and you can’t believe that
what was so unclear before is now so obvious.

Chris Spiek: That’s right. I think that’s the power of jobs, is that it
gets back to the essence of what’s going on and again when you look at
things at the surface they just don’t look the same until you kind of dig
deep and try to understand that cause will mechanism and it’s about
combining words, combining terms, combining efforts, combining things that
kind of say how does this work and so you know Clay has a good talk around
curiosity and he talks about you know how you got to be curious. I think
that’s really at the core of this is that you know for us I think, I know
for me I’m very curious about how everything works and why it works the way
it is and why did it work before and not work now and you know I was guilty
as a kid always kind of taking things apart and getting in trouble because
I want to know how things worked.

So how is Jobs kind of impacted has it done anything for you in terms of

Tom McBrien: Yeah the thing I kind of liked I was thinking about this
beforehand, the thing I would like to bring up is my major. So going into
college I had no idea why I want the major and then around halfway through
freshman year I thought I really like to major in Mandarin because I lived
in Asia for a while, I think it’s, I have always really liked languages, I
think it will be really useful to know. So I knew Mandarin, then the other
half was I also earned a major in English because I have always loved
writing, had a passion for literature. It’s just been kind of one of my
things, so that was kind of my track for the whole second half of freshman
year and the beginning of the summer. But then over the summer I was
thinking, I was thinking back to the years I studied biology and I was
thinking how much I enjoyed that and kind of coming at it now after I have
had this experience with Jobs-To-Be-Done I was thinking a little bit about
my majors and what jobs I was trying to do to them.

And I realized that while English was my passion, English was something I
was already pretty good and English was something that I can pursue you
know as a hobby. I can read literature on my home; I can think about it, I
can ruminate over it. Meanwhile biology on the other hand that’s not
something that’s easy to teach yourself.

And that’s something that you need some training in and so I thought if I
already have I have pretty great writing skills, I can think about
literature, why would I major in that when I’m kind of doing more of the
same, why not go to biology where the job there is I’m actually being
trained, I’m learning stuff. I’m learning it different way to look at the
world. I’m learning the skills through these labs, through these math
courses that I didn’t otherwise have. And so now I’m a double major in
Mandarin and biology and I’m really excited about that because I can see
myself learning these skills that I don’t have a lot of already and while
at the same time enjoying it.

Chris Spiek: So you actually switch, it’s like you switch the way you
looked at the jobs so as much as we call it a major this is really about
what I hiring school for.

Tom McBrien: Right.

Chris Spiek: So it’s either higher school to get me better at what I’m
passionate about or hire it to teach me something new that I won’t be able
to otherwise probably pickup on my own. Right, so you changed that
dimension, this is really interesting.

Tom McBrien: Well it changes the dimension of performance Clay talks about
again. So to me I think it’s a great choice because again it’s very causal
oriented and it’s also very in nature, it basically gets back to the forces
and so I think no matter what you do biology is going to teach you a way of
thinking in a language that allows you to apply to pretty much anything you
wanted, whether you’re writing or whether you’re a lawyer or whether you’re
a biologist or a doctor. I think you will see how the whole notion
causality through biology, it’s a great, great discipline to have as a
foundation to do whatever you want to do.

Chris Spiek: Yeah and when you kind of bring up the job of education I was
thinking that I took a few English classes in my freshman year and I did
really well. So I could hire education to kind of you know bring me a good
GPA or accolades or whatever or I could hire it actually learn something
that I really don’t know too much about yet.

Tom McBrien: Right. Even you know it’s not like I gave up the passion for
something I don’t really like. I know that I’m interested in biology but
it’s something I don’t have a lot of skill in yet. So even though you know
it might or it might take a hit on my GPA and stuff but I will come out of
it a lot more value than I have.

Chris Spiek: Right what I can say is that I think that when you start to
look at when people hire things to help them transform themselves so to me
you were doing English to get through school as opposed to doing English to
make you better and so part of is that when people hire things to say I
don’t know biology now and when I come out I know biology, you value those
experiences so much more and at some point it’s like five years out of
school. I know people who went in, who were English people and came out
let’s say English people, they were like I could have done what I did when
I came in. They didn’t really get that much out of it, so the whole idea of
making sure you take your experiences and make them transformative, is the
heart of job. So that’s awesome.

So one of the things I had you do because of my dyslexia I had you read a
bunch of books. What was your favorite book?

Tom McBrien: My favorite book was actually probably the last one I read
which was the 50th Law, co-wrote by Robert Greene, well written by Robert
Greene. It’s kind of half prescription for living fearlessly and half
biography of 50 Cent.

Chris Spiek: 50 Cent the rapper.

Tom McBrien: The rapper, that’s right, going into it, I really didn’t know
what to think, I mean it’s about 50 Cent, I was like this is going to try
too hard, you know is this trying to bring together two worlds, the author
I read another book of his who is very focused on history. He is very, not
dry but very academic and obviously I don’t think you would call the life
of 50 Cent very academic.

Chris Spiek: No not at all.

Tom McBrien: But it was just amazing the way he was able to form tenants
out of 50’s life as well as forming tenants and applying and proving them
through the life of 50 Cent. So it was all about fear and how fear controls
us and you know the way that fear creeps into our lives and places we
wouldn’t even expect. Kind of talking about, you know he was talking about
hustlers on the street and I was like Okay well once they kind of made it
on the street they probably don’t have fear, right because they are dealing
with you know they are dealing with violence they are dealing with all that
they wouldn’t be the most fearful people. Then he was talking about how
they once if made it can be some of the most fearful on earth because they
are afraid to transition. The hustling life is the only life they know, so
I mean that was just one example but it’s just really powerful book.

Chris Spiek: It’s another book of causality. Because it just gets back to
motivations and why do people do what they do and to me the reason why I
like it is it’s just one of those things about been able to understand,
it’s just something else who has done the work to kind of get down to those
essence of what makes people tick and this was to me a really good
understanding of what makes 50 Cent tick, but then abstracting it up to the
level to kind of say how do you use what he knows about yourself and what
are your afraid and how is fear really driving you and how do you turn
something that you think, I love the one that’s called turning shit into

The whole notion of how you see opportunities. At some point a lot of who
look at the situation and say well this is shitty I can’t do anything about
it and in the book they talk about how it literally is like Okay you
literally have the choice to figure out how to frame it completely
differently and turn shit into sugar and it goes through examples and I
think that’s the amazing thing like when you start to do the jobs
interviews you just start to see people who take products and say yeah I
know this wasn’t ideal, I know this wasn’t the right thing and I use it and
all of a sudden it’s like wow, holy crap how did they do that and it’s, it
does a new job for them and so I think it’s the same kind of, same
philosophy if you will, very good book.

Irwin, so let’s just can we turn for you a second?

Ervin Fowlkes: Absolutely.

Chris Spiek: So Irwin has been kind of going back and forth on a couple of
projects with this and what is your take on jobs?

Ervin Fowlkes: Well my take my jobs I would have to say is getting the
causality but also the depth of which you can go into something and also…

Chris Spiek: What do you mean by the depth?

Ervin Fowlkes: The depth of and I can’t, without getting crossing any type
of confidentiality, but just certain things that I took for granted that
people just did.

Chris Spiek: Yeah.

Ervin Fowlkes: I realized all the emotional, social and functional things
that go beyond that that even I do them. Where I thought I was completely
new to this, not that the world out there is crazy but I’m the smart one.
But now I realized that wow we are all just kind of out here floating
around, with all these parametric devices acting upon us, let make choices
about things and then Jobs is such a keen way of digging through that, what
would seem to be the new word to learn today is pablum, it’s all chaotic
and we’re all just kind of floating into the soup. But now it’s actually
scientific basis for everything we are doing and you can actually diagram
the model and look at it and say wait a minute I can interrupt this pattern
and interject a new product and a new way of doing it, that way can
completely renovate someone’s life almost.

Chris Spiek: That’s right. I think the only way to just kind of listening
to you talk, I think what we need to do for the one of the episodes you
might have brought this up last week is maybe show one of the videos that
we have on home building and go through the time slicing. Because I think
the only way that you can experience that level of depth that you’re
describing, is to go through the process of slowing down consumption to
that level. I’m saying you’re not just a series of random reactions to
things, you’re actually weighing out things as you visualize yourself,
consuming something, pick something off the shelf, buy it, whatever
situation you’re in, but to see the video and see it time sliced I think we
will give people in the listening audience the ability to actually
experience that depth and without it I think it sounds like a gobbely-goop
[SP] that’s the target, the other part about it is that you know we have
colleague that we work with that will explode at the mere mention of an
impulse purchase, right? Because it’s while we have worked in categories
where things are cheap and they are commoditized and it’s like we can’t
differentiate it all or we can’t get the consumers eyes because it’s just
an impulse purchase, they are going their cash register out and just
grabbing something off shelf.

Get the video of the last time they bought something and the cash register
and time slice it out and understand what was going on in their lives. Clay
uses the example of picking up the New York times at the newsstand, you
don’t do that just because of nothing. You have a job that you’re out there
to find and without time slicing it you’re right, it just looks like you
know they grabbed it and moved on and there is just no reason around it.

Ervin Fowlkes: I just wanted to be very clear is as much as you can say
it’s science it’s still art. It’s still a way in which we are taking
scientific principals and kind of throwing them on behaviors and we’re
trying to empathize to say what if people are, if there are forces acting
upon us to make these decisions how can we frame them in a way that at
least helps us understand how what was going in and what’s the most from
our perspective rationale or rationale but most, what makes sense from that
perspective. Was it emotional, was it social etc. But at the same time is
then once you have done that can you see patterns and how everybody else
has done it and so as much as people want to see there is a science behind
it, there is also this art of being able to see things and work within the
constraints and kind of so we use almost like a scientific language to help
work in the very artful world of research to find out what people do. So,
we’re going to, I think the other piece we are going to play now is about
when we are with Clay about couple of weeks ago and Clay goes into talk
about the notion of when he went to see Andy Grove. The whole aspect of
Andy was a very, Mr. Grove, I’m sorry, was a very impatient man and wanted
Clay to just tell him how does disruption affect Intel and Clay basically
didn’t do that, he made him stop and think about to understand it so Mr.
Grove could have his way of understanding how the theory could actually, as
Clay puts it, the theory had an opinion on what it was going to do but.

Ervin Fowlkes: It wasn’t Clay’s opinion.

Bob Moesta: It wasn’t Clay’s opinion it had to be the theory’s opinion and
only Andy Grove could figure out what that theory was.

Ervin Fowlkes: So we will leave you with that. Is the conference sold out?

Bob Moesta: It was sold out, it sold out in three days like he predicted.

Ervin Fowlkes: Okay so we will be at 37 Signals on October 1, but if you
haven’t bought tickets it’s too late. So stay tuned for the next one. We
will be back next week as always, if you want more information go to We will back next week.

Clay: Minding my business here and one day Andy Grove called me out of
blue, this is late 90s and he is a gruff man; and he said it’s Andy Grove,
do you know who I’m? And of course I do and he said well as you know I’m
very busy and I don’t have time to read, dribble from academics like you
but somebody read something you wrote and they concluded from it that Intel
is going to get killed and I said I never wrote anything about Intel and he
said well they say you did, but whatever. I want you to come out two weeks
hence I have got a meeting with my indirect reports and I want you to
explain you’re research and tell us what it means for Intel. So for me it
was a chance of a lifetime.

So going out and we knocked on the door he opened it up and he said “look,
stuff happened and we don’t have any time for you. But look you have come
all this way I will give you 10 minutes and tell me what it means for Intel
and then we got to get on with things.” and I said “the problem is I don’t
have an opinion about Intel but the theory from my research the theory has
an opinion, but I need to explain the theory so that then we can ask the
theory what its opinion of what Intel is.”

So anyway, nobody has ever framed that before and so he sat down very
impatiently. As I described the model of disruption about five minutes and
he chopped off and he said look I got your stupid theory, tell us what it
means and he got what he got and he really did get it and then I said Andy
I can’t apply it to Intel just yet because to really understand it I got to
describe how this process of disruption worked its way through an industry
that is so different than yours that you can understand it in the abstract
and then I promise we will bring it in. So I told him how the mini mills
came in at the bottom of the business against the integrated steel
companies and picked off rebarb and then went up to sheeth steel [SP] and
when I was finished with that Grove said, “Oh, I get what you’re telling
me.” He described how at the bottom of the market where these two companies
Skyworks and AMD and he said “we got to go down, we got to kill those guys,
don’t we?” I thought that and until he did you know and I thought about
this a million times because if I had been suckered into telling Andy Grove
what he should think about the micro-processor business, he would have
killed me.

But rather than telling him what to think I taught him how to think and
then the answer was obvious. So then he didn’t standup in front of mankind
and say Intel is going to the bottom of the market ladies and gentlemen
because that was so counter to the profit logic of the company and so we
said at the seminar which I did the first few and then hand it over to him
and his staff and it lasted a whole day, did it 20 times over the course of
a year, brought in a 100 people at a time to go through this and so we
present a little bit about the theory of disruption and have breakout
groups to discuss are these guys really going to kill us. And always it was
I don’t want your opinion I want to know what the theory opinion the theory
has on this question. And then I present a little bit more and then we have
breakout groups to discuss, how could Intel disrupt the other companies to
start new businesses and then present a little bit more and have breakout
groups to discuss how do we need to change the way we will organize to deal
with this. And so last year Intel shift about $23 billion from products
that emerge from these breakout groups. So I was asking Grove a couple of
years ago about how he had pulled that off and he said you know Clay your
theories didn’t give us any answers but they gave us a common language in a
common way to frame the problem so we can reach consensus in order to
counter-intuitive course of action. I just thought that was brilliant and
so when I have been in situations like you and I actually mean you’re
situation here because we are getting disruptive by corporate universities,
let’s know the story.

But I never answer if people ask a question about these issues that you
post here I never answer it but I always say look there is a way to think
about it and given the theory that is relevant whether it’s Jobs-To-Be-Done
or disruption and then I’ll show how it’s happened in other industries so
they can visualize it and then almost invariably their answer to me was Oh,
I get it.

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