What causes a customer to purchase and use a particular product or service? Focus on answering that, always. It’s the big idea why customers “hire” products or services for a job they need to get done. Mac & cheese is comfort food, not just a warm meal to satisfy our hunger.

Successful innovations are not determined by luck. Companies have to find out, define, and organise to deliver on a Job to be Done. That is, a job that customers “hire” a product to get a job done.

Competing against Luck by Clayton Christensen, Taddy Hall, Karen Dillon and David S. Duncan is all about innovation and customer choice. It reminds us, that constant innovation is existentially important for companies and economies. If innovating stops, there is no growth and no new jobs.

There are indeed few things more obvious than for a company to humbly ask itself: What do our customers actually want and need. And then develop our produce a service or product that satisfies the customers. Over and over again. Elementary, Sherlock Holmes would say. But evidently it is not that simple.

Some successful companies have indeed understood this general idea – and living are that principle. During office hours (pre-COVID19), Facebook saw itself as competitor for smoking. On brakes, it provides the social interaction that could have been outside of office buildings with the groups of smokers. Snapchat is competing with teenagers passing notes. Netflix competes with drinking wine, board games and video games – even sex, whether the streaming company wanted that or not. Actually, it has added some adult material on its service.

The former conservatively sporty family car BMW has redefined its job as mobility, together with electric cars. Owning a car is no longer that relevant. Competing against Luck shows how Jobs to Be Done theory can be exiting even with products like milk shakes or mattresses.

Double price for a stripped product
In the book, there is an example of developing accounting software for small business owners. These customers didn’t want to understand the accounting in the background, only cope with the simplest functionalities. The more complicate software needed hiring a bookkeeper. With half of the functionality, the easy-to-use software could be priced double compared to its more complicated software rival. The entrepreneur with the simple software did in the end save the bookkeepers fees, being able to do the numbers work without help from outside.
According to the authors, we’ll pay premium prices for a product that nails the job because the full cost of a product that fails to do the job – wasted time, frustration, spending money on poor solutions, is significant to us. The struggle is costly.

According to a McKinsey poll, 84% of global executives say that innovation is extremely important to their growth strategies. And somehow, nearly all – astonishingly 94% – were unsatisfied with their own innovation performance. Why is that so? Apparently these companies – and societies as a whole have been asking the wrong questions. We have forgotten that correlation is not causation. There is no short cut to happiness or success whit this books approach.  Successful innovation is and remains hard work. 

High praise
The book has received high praise from the top of the corporate world. According to Reed Hastings, the co-founder and CEO of Netflix, Competing against Luck is ”mandatory reading at Netflix”. Muhtar Kent, the CEO of The Coca-Cola Company, sees that the book ”offers fresh thinking on how to get innovation right. Clayton Christensen and his coauthors offer a compelling take on how to truly understand customers by the progress they’re seeking to make in their lives.” He end his remark with a ”Bravo!”
According to Ron Frank of IBM, the authors ”have presented critical business thinkers and doers with a breakthrough theory that will change how leaders approach innovation by reverse engineering from a high value and focused customer job to be done. Mr. Frank writes that he has read the book ”cover to cover–and will ask my top team to do the same.” One more endorsement, which I can agree with, comes from Philip Delves Broughton of Wall Street Journal: Once explained, it seems glaringly obvious.

Competing against Luck (Harper Business, 2016)
By Clayton Christensen, Taddy Hall, Karen Dillon and David S. Duncan 
Review by Jan Erola