I recently read Clayton Christensen’s Competing Against Luck. (Well, I didn’t actually read it – I listened to it. Podcasts and audiobooks have become my super-power, magically turning my commute or time spent mowing the lawn into learning time. This seems to be the ONE form of multi-tasking I’m capable of.)

At any rate, in this book/audiobook, Christensen introduced me to the concept of a “job to be done.” The oft-cited case study involves milkshakes at McDonalds, and details a journey toward understanding WHY people choose to drink milkshakes in order to better address their needs. Note: the same item can do different “jobs” for different people at different times — so you’re looking for patterns.

An excerpt from HBS outlines the concept:

The secret to winning the innovation game lies in understanding what causes customers to make choices that help them achieve progress on something they are struggling with in their lives. To get to the right answers, Christensen says, executives should be asking: What job would consumers want to hire a product to do?

“For me, this is a neat idea,” Christensen writes of the Theory of Jobs to Be Done. “When we buy a product, we essentially ‘hire’ something to get a job done. If it does the job well, when we are confronted with the same job, we hire that same product again. And if the product does a crummy job, we ‘fire’ it and look around for something else we might hire to solve the problem.”

This idea has re-shaped the way I am thinking about Simili in two major ways:

  1. I finally explicitly articulated the fact that there are emotional “jobs” to be done. Simili is not just about the practical “find me a restaurant” or “help me schedule a social event” – it’s also about alleviating social friction. On some level, I knew this — Simili was inspired by my feelings of discomfort around voicing what I’d actually like to eat, especially in work-related social settings — but as I’d gotten more and more focused on building the product and on what features the product should have, I had slipped away from the emotional “jobs” and been thinking only of the practical ones. I needed this reminder to view the problem I’m solving holistically.
  2. I realized that the first iteration of my product only solved HALF of the job to be done. Who’s going to hire something that only takes care of half of the problem? I’d always envisioned that scheduling would be a feature of Simili at some point in the future, but this realization and fuller understanding of the “job to be done” prompted me to view scheduling not as a “nice to have” but as a “must have” component of the product.

This is all well and good, and I am hopeful that I’m building a “model employee” in Simili, but it’s worth remembering that the “jobs to be done” theory has another implication, too… it can be hard to fire that incompetent-but-familiar face in order to make room for a new employee.

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