Sometimes I’m uninspired to write. Sometimes I blame it on writer’s block, other times I blame it on lack of imagination. But more often than not, I’m uninspired to write because there are so many global issues to address that it’s overwhelming to decide which is the right one to address next. If I have that problem (someone who merely writes about global issues), I can’t imagine how innovators who actually tackle these issues must feel. 

To (hopefully) create some inspiration for myself, but more importantly, for innovators out there who may be overwhelmed with the issues, sectors, or opportunities they want to engage in, let’s review a handy tool and popular theory: Jobs to Be Done. This theory provides the first step toward identifying potential innovations by uncovering the unmet need within a market that each innovator is best suited to address. It also tackles how to design an innovative solution that best addresses that unmet need. 

Jobs to Be Done Theory accomplished this because it’s a framework for understanding customer behavior and a way of analyzing a market. But beyond that, as noted above, it’s a tool that can help innovators better understand struggles and best design a product or service that addresses that struggle. Let’s break that down. 

The uncovering

When we analyze a market through “Jobs,” our unit of analysis is circumstance. Innovators must walk in their targeted customers’ shoes to truly understand their struggle, the progress their customers are trying to make, and the context surrounding their customers’ situations. 

The first part, identifying struggle, may seem easy to us who see problems all around us. To help narrow down the seemingly overwhelming problems into something more easily addressed by innovative solutions, we typically employ four techniques

  1. Identify common barriers to consumption: Look for barriers such as time, money, skill, or access. 
  2. Look for workarounds: In the absence of certain products or services, what do people do? 
  3. Consider common aversions: Services or products that people avoid are great sources of inspiration for innovative solutions because the built-in desire to avoid the costly or painful existing solution creates a natural pull to your alternative.
  4. Examine your life and experiences: What are products or services that you enjoy that others don’t have access to, or what are products and services you don’t enjoy that are a shared negative experience? 

Understanding the struggle comes first, and next is identifying the progress your target customer is trying to make. If they have a struggle but they aren’t trying to make any progress, then they won’t buy into your solution. The need to make progress is of utmost importance—that is the Job you are going to design a solution for. 

The designing

Each Job has an architecture consisting of three levels. 

The first is the Job itself, which is made up of three components: functional, emotional, and social. Think of a Tesla in opposition to a Camry: both cars provide the same function, moving you from point A to point B; but a Tesla will have a different emotional and social response than a Camry. Driving a Tesla might make a customer feel and be perceived as fancier and more environmentally-friendly than driving a Camry. 

The second is the experience. When going to a car dealership your experience varies greatly when you’re dealing with an overly-tedious and insistent salesman, than when dealing with one that is more efficient and transparent in their offerings. Essentially, experience is about how the customer will feel when buying and using the product. Addressing the struggle as an innovator means considering a customer’s feelings. Innovators also don’t want to design a solution that customers will shy away from or be ashamed of using, like Godrej originally did with their chotuKool refrigerator for the poor before learning from their mistake and redesigning a more socially-acceptable product. A good experience is vital.

The last level is integration. This is simple: innovators need to know what resources they must acquire and integrate to create the experiences customers need to fulfill the job. To successfully sell a fancy, environmentally friendly vehicle innovators might need to invest in the product and in marketing, training, and branding to create an incentivizing purchase experience and use. 

It’s important to mention that while designing the product or service specific to the Job you’re addressing, there will be forces acting against you. Just like there are circumstances shaping a struggle, there are circumstances shaping the solution. These circumstances are known as the forces of progress. 

The forces working in your favor are the forces compelling your potential customers to change; in other words, the push of the situation and the pull of the new idea. The forces working against you, or the forces opposing customers to change, will be the habits of the present and the anxiety of the new solution. It’s important to remember these forces as you design a product or service because they’ll make you think about the people you are trying to serve, their anxieties, and how you can best alleviate them. In short, your product or service will be more successful.

Problems are all around us, but Jobs Theory helps us narrow down the struggles to design (or write about) solutions for the progress that people are trying to make. So the next time I feel uninspired and overwhelmed by the multitude of global issues, instead of looking at the world, I might take a closer look around first—uncover some unmet needs, start small, and start specific. Innovators in a similar situation can use this tool to their advantage as well. 

For more of our Thursday Theory Tips, read:

Thursday Theory Tips – Who are your best customers?

Thursday Theory Tips – Is my business model working for me?

Thursday Theory Tips – Culture, management’s secret weapon

Thursday Theory Tips – How do I plan my new venture?

Thursday Theory Tips – Disruption, a theory of competition

Thursday Theory Tips – On creating new markets

Thursday Theory Tips – Looking for money? Here’s what you need to know

Thursday Theory Tips – Is learning about theory worth your investment? 


  • Sandy Sanchez
    Sandy Sanchez

    Sandy Sanchez is a research associate at the Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation, where she focuses on understanding and solving global development issues through the lens of Jobs to Be Done and innovation theories. Her current work addresses how individuals can use market-creating innovations to create sustainable prosperity in growth economies.