Dr. Lourival Carmo Monaco Neto, Postdoctoral Research Associate


Know Your Customers’ “Jobs to Be Done” by Clayton M. Christensen, Taddy Hall, Karen Dillon and David S. Duncan


Harvard Business Review, September 2016


We all know and have heard many times that innovation is what feeds sustainable growth in companies. A 2016 McKinsey Institute survey showed 84% of global executives reported innovation was extremely important to their growth strategies, and 94% were dissatisfied with their organizations’ innovation performance.

There are many reasons that could explain this dissatisfaction and inability to properly innovate by these global companies — one of the most important being that what made these companies successful from the start is precisely what is preventing their disruptive innovations from flourishing. Note: the word “disruptive” was used intentionally here, as a disruptive innovation is not the same as a sustaining innovation. Disruptive innovations seek to explore overserved portions of the market or nonconsumption (customers not participating in that market), and sustaining innovations cater to underserved customers — those with willingness to absorb performance improvements.

To further explain, some companies tend to be unsuccessful in creating disruptive innovation because their resources, processes and values are focused on their core business and on customers most valuable to them. In doing so, companies become extremely efficient in improving what they already offer; however, it also becomes a vast challenge to do something different/innovate, as such a task would require going against the resources, processes and values already in place.

Another point that complicates innovation for some companies is the fact that more information is being gathered from customers than ever before, giving companies an extremely accurate description of customer demographics and behaviors. The downside of this information is that making connections and correlations between these demographical and/or behavioral characteristics and sales of determined products and services is difficult. The mantra here is this: correlation does not mean causality. But many decision makers have grown comfortable with basing decisions on correlations.

This is not to say this information doesn’t matter, but the true key is discovering what the customer is trying to achieve in a given circumstance, or in other words, we must discover the job to be done.

When a customer purchases a product or service, they are expecting that product or service to either do or help them do a job. If the product or service performs well, it is likely the customer will purchase again. If it does not perform to their expectations, it’s likely they will not purchase again.

Although this concept is simple to understand, it is very difficult to put in practice. For example, you can’t just ask your customers what the job is they are trying to get done. Realistically, most customers don’t know what they are trying to achieve or how to explain it to others.

While identifying the job to be done is not easy, there are some important principles to remember:

  • “Job” is shorthand for what an individual really seeks to accomplish in a given circumstance.
  • The circumstances are more important than customer characteristics, product attributes, new technologies or trends.
  • Good innovations solve problems that formerly had only inadequate or no solutions.
  • Jobs are never simply about function — they have powerful social and emotional dimensions.

In order to identify these jobs, there are some questions that can be asked:

  1. Do you have a job that needs done?

If you are looking for a place to innovate, sometimes the best place to start is with things present in your life. Before asking others, ask yourself, as a customer, “What are the jobs I’m trying to get done that aren’t currently being completed in an efficient, cost effective or timely manner?”

  1. Where do you see nonconsumption?

While understanding what products and services people are trying to hire in order to complete the jobs they seek to get done is important, it is equally as important to try to find those who are not hiring products or services. The best, and often the hardest, opportunities lie where your solution competes against no others. By understanding the nonconsumption space, you may be able to see jobs to be done not currently being addressed by others.

  1. What workarounds have people invented?

If you see people coming up with workarounds to get something done, there may be an innovation waiting to be created. Usually, these kinds of solutions are below average and not enough to truly achieve what the customer is attempting, so understanding the job to be done may offer an opportunity to create a better solution.

  1. What tasks do people want to avoid?

Identifying jobs people don’t want to do is extremely powerful. Instead of simply analyzing jobs people don’t necessarily mind completing and attempting to help them achieve these jobs more easily, try to find solutions for jobs people are willing to pay someone else to deal with for them.

  1. What surprising uses have customers invented for existing products?

If there is a product or service being used by customers in a way not originally intended by its creators, this may indicate there is a job to be done without a proper solution. Being capable of identifying these unexpected uses will give you increased insight into the true job needing completed.

What this means for Food and Agricultural Business

The agri-food sector is one of the most promising industries when it comes to innovation, especially those related to the digitization of its value chain. In order to achieve such innovation, companies first must understand the jobs their customers are trying to get done.

Once these jobs have been identified, established companies can then create sustaining innovations that will help underserved customers by providing them with superior performance of products and services they already consume. On the other hand, startups (independent or spinoffs from established companies) can focus on disruptive innovations that bring non-consumers to the market and cater to overserved consumers with optimal solutions to their jobs.

Given the way this industry has been developing, many of these innovations have traditionally been focused on ownership and product specifics vs. a systems- and platform-based approach; however, in many ways, the actual jobs famers, ag input manufacturers, retailers, etc. are truly trying to complete have still not fully been addressed. We here at the Center for Food and Agricultural Business have been working for over 30 years to help our partners not only understand their customers better, but also identify solutions that meet their needs and jobs to be done.