Forget About Needs and Wants: Look at Customer Jobs and Outcomes

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I really enjoy conferences. They give you the chance to learn new people and new stuff too. I gave a presentation on new models of business innovation – open innovation and customer-driven innovation – at the InnoCzech conference in Prague this week. One of the other presenters was Chris Lawer of the OMC Group and Strategyn UK. He presented some interesting ‘new stuff’ on outcome-driven innovation.

Traditional innovation relies upon understanding the needs, wants and expectations of customers (N,W&E). The purpose of innovation is to fulfil an unmet need. Needs are best thought of as the things customers can easily describe, wants as things that are more difficult to describe (or not even known) and expectations as how much of them customers expect. I need a hole in the wall to hang up a picture, I want there to be no mess and I expect this to be quick & easy to do. Finding out customers’ N,W&E is very difficult to do well. It is just so intangible. It’s a bit like nailing jelly to the wall. And the newer something is, the harder it becomes to describe. Imagine trying to identify the unmet needs for the original Sony Walkman, for Starbucks, or for MySpace!

But there is a much better way to do this. As Clayton Christensen describes in a recent Sloan Management Review article on Finding the Right Job for Your Product, rather than focussing on nebulous N,W&E, you should focus on the actual jobs customers are trying to do and in particular, on the outcomes they are trying to achieve. Jobs are simple statements about what it is customers are trying to do, such as,
“determine the current value of an antique when at an auction”
They provide a simple language to describe what customers are trying to do, to identify unmet needs and to identify potential solutions. Strategyn have turned this simple insight into a very robust approach for outcome-driven innovation. Chris talked us through the Strategyn approach and showed us a number of examples of how it works, and how it was used by, for example, by Bosch to develop award winning power tools.

It is not often that I come across something as ground-breaking as outcome-driven innovation. With new product introductions enjoying an 80% initial failure rate in the market and a 60% subsequent failure rate, anything that increases this success rate is to be welcomed. Outcome-driven innovation may be just the answer.

What do you think? Is looking at innovation through the customer’s eyes the way forward? Or is the R&D department just doing fine?

Post a comment and get the conversation going

Graham Hill

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