Za’atari Refugee Camp, Jordan | Flickr: UNHCR

Ban Ki-moon will end his tenure as the United Nations Secretary General on December 31st, 2016, paving the way for former Prime Minister of Portugal, Antonio Guerres to begin his term. There is no shortage of issues for the incoming Secretary General to begin tackling on January 1st. From the migrant and refugee crisis to ongoing crises in several parts of the world, Guerres is going to have his work cut out for him. With that in mind, the Secretary General would be wise to reflect and consider the effectiveness of theories and frameworks to demystify complex situations. Jobs Theory and the RPP framework, for instance, both help to shed light on development and its role in promoting peace.

In his recent book, Competing Against Luck, Christensen Institute co-founder, Clayton Christensen, makes a compelling case for the utility of Jobs Theory, or Jobs to Be Done. While the book focuses on the theory as it relates to customers making purchases, the theory can be applied more broadly to help us understand why people make certain decisions when they find themselves in specific circumstances. A Job is the progress that a person is trying to make in a particular circumstance. It can also be understood as a problem that needs to be alleviated. This is key to understanding why people make certain choices, which will be paramount as the Secretary General seeks to develop solutions for the many problems facing the global community.

It is critical to understand the terms progress and circumstance. Progress represents movement toward a goal or aspiration and a Job is always a process to make progress. The circumstance is fundamental to defining the Job and finding a solution to for it because the nature of the progress desired will always be strongly influenced by the circumstance.

For instance, consider the ongoing refugee and migrant crisis. It is only by understanding the Job that causes hundreds of thousands of people to risk their lives on floatables across the Mediterranean that the UN will be able to develop viable solutions for that problem. Further, for many of its peacekeeping efforts, understanding the Jobs of the leaders of opposing forces will enable the organization to get at the root cause of why there is a conflict in the first place.

On the surface, Jobs Theory might seem a simplistic one, but when you move beyond the surface, you realize its importance. After all, how can an organization even as powerful as the United Nations develop an effective solution if it fails to understand the problem? Dietrich Bonhoeffer, theologian and anti-Nazi dissident, is quoted as saying, “If you board the wrong train, it is no use running along the corridor in the other direction.” Jobs Theory does not guarantee success, as understanding an organization’s capabilities is critical to making progress as well, but, at least, it does significantly increase the odds of boarding the right train.

Diagnosing the Job is only half of the battle—the Secretary General Guerres will also need a deep understanding of what the UN and its partners are capable of doing so that it may use its time and resources as effectively as possible. To that end, the RPP framework breaks down the capabilities of an organization into three components—resources, processes and priorities—in order to understand its limitations. A quick recap of the three components is below.

Resources are the most obvious and tangible of the three factors in the RPP framework. Resources include people, equipment, technology, brands, cash, information, and relationships. Most resources are visible and often are measurable, so people can readily assess their value.

Processes are the patterns of interaction, coordination, communication, and decision-making through which organizations, communities or countries create value. Organizations create value as people transform inputs of resources—the work of people, equipment, technology, cash, information, and energy—into products and services of greater worth. It is critical for an organization such as the UN, laden with significant bureaucracies, to understand its processes because while it might have the best of intentions to execute a project, its processes might not allow for it. For instance, should it want to engage in peacekeeping efforts in a particular country, the bureaucracy built into the organization could disable it from being effective in a timely manner, such that delegation to another organization or entity would be a better move.

Priorities affect what an organization can or cannot accomplish. Some organizations’ priorities are ethical in tone while others are based on a particular ideology. For this reason, priorities typically dictate what an organization cannot do. Regardless of how important an organization claims a project or an initiative is, if it’s something the organization does not prioritize, it’s not going to happen.

There really is no panacea for a majority of the many complex issues that we face in our world today. Terrorism, mass migration, war, conflict, and poverty are all very complex and multidimensional. However, if Guerres is armed with good predictable theory, he will be better equipped to guide the United Nations in making progress on many of these fronts.


  • Efosa Ojomo
    Efosa Ojomo

    Efosa Ojomo is a senior research fellow at the Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation, and co-author of The Prosperity Paradox: How Innovation Can Lift Nations Out of Poverty. Efosa researches, writes, and speaks about ways in which innovation can transform organizations and create inclusive prosperity for many in emerging markets.