Author and Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen writes in his book Competing Against Luck
that most companies don’t know how to innovate because they’re asking the wrong question.
Don’t ask: How can I get people to buy my product?
Instead, Christensen recommends that you ask: What job are my customers hiring this product to do?
His “Jobs to Be Done” theory of innovation says that customers hire products or services to perform particular jobs. Some of those jobs might be small (e.g., pass the time while waiting in line), while others are more significant (e.g., find a more fulfilling career).
Christensen tells the story of how he used the theory while advising McDonald’s. The company was looking for a way to increase its milkshake sales, and despite having tons of data on its customers and the market, it was struggling to do so.
Christensen and his colleagues spent most of their time asking McDonald’s customers what jobs they were hiring the milkshakes to do, and in the process they had two insights:
- Many people bought milkshakes to have for breakfast during their early-morning commute. They hired the milkshake instead of a bagel or a doughnut because it lasted longer, was easier to handle, and was more enjoyable during their otherwise “long and boring” drive.
- Another large set of customers hired milkshakes during the afternoon “to feel like a fun parent.” They saw a milkshake as a convenient way to reward their children – one that was both cheaper than an expensive toy, and less time-consuming than going to a movie.
Christensen and his team helped McDonald’s uncover more opportunities to increase sales by focusing on customers’ specific needs and circumstances, and the jobs they were hiring the milkshakes to do:
- For the commuters, the company could make the milkshakes thicker; possibly add fruit; or even have pre-mixed milkshakes prepared to help the commuters save time in the morning.
- For the parents, the company could create smaller cup sizes, so that the parents wouldn’t feel as guilty; or they could pair the milkshake with a small toy.