Clayton Christensen and your product’s job

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I’m a Clayton Christensen fan.  Highly revered for coining the phrase disruptive innovation and championing the theory, Christensen has guided product and business strategy decisions since his Innovator’s Dilemma was published in 2003. Quickly, he defines disruptive innovation as:

“A process by which a product or service takes root initially in simple applications at the bottom of a market and then relentlessly moves ‘up market’, eventually displacing established competitors.”

This plainspoken but elegant video by Jeff Monday does a great job explaining Christensen’s theory:

Christensen challenges us to stay focused on needs, and not on demographic segments or on pushing products.  He asks what job are your customers asking your product to do? In a post I consider to be a classic, Christensen talks about how it’s more important to understand the job a product has to do rather than the customer who is buying the product:

Pierre Omidyar did not design eBay for the “auction psychographic.” He founded it to help people sell personal items. Google was designed for the job of finding information, not for a “search demographic.” The unit of analysis in the work that led to Procter & Gamble’s stunningly successful Swiffer was the job of cleaning floors, not a demographic or psychographic study of people who mop.

Said another way, “What you solve is more important than what you sell.” Sounds familiar doesn’t it?

It did to one of my clients. We were talking about the keynote Christensen delivered during a recent visit to his company.

“When he asked us what job customers were hiring our product to do, I instantly thought of our customer experience,” he told me.  As a provider of health insurance, it would be easy – but not very powerful – to focus on price and product. They’ve chosen differently, defining a clear need to solve for a carefully chosen customer.

I was, of course, overjoyed that he made the connection. And I was happy that Christensen’s speech solidified that defining the triggering need (or job) you solve is the first step in the target experience that will drive performance for your company. Getting really clear about what people are asking you to do is the initial litmus test you should undergo before developing or changing your products or services.

By now an obvious question, but Clayton and I have to ask: What job are your customers asking you to do?

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