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Evasive Answers about Jobs to be Done

David Sundahl, 10/27/2016

Yesterday, Business Insider reported that UBS’s Steven Milunovich grilled Tim Cook on whether Apple sees a next “job to be done”? The article was critical of Cook’s answer. I’m not here to make a judgement about either Cook’s answer or Apple’s strategy. I want to clarify what a job to be done is, and a bit about why it’s hard to talk about them.

First, jobs to be done are neither customer nor technology focused. Typically, products and services grow around a sense of a customer need or around the potential of a technology--think: AI and Blockchain. In a very simple sense, though, a job to be done is defined by time and space. It’s a circumstance in which people are trying to make progress in their lives. I have many needs in my life and there are lots of technologies, but sometimes a need just has no relevance in the circumstance I find myself. For instance, I feel the need to be healthy, but, say, when I’m cleaning up the kitchen after dinner, that need has very little influence on how I do the dishes--maybe it should, I could be the next fitness guru: “Dishwashing your way to dishwasher abs!” Nevertheless, the fact is that the relevance of a need varies over circumstances, and jobs are defined by circumstances.

Second, all jobs have three components: practical, social and emotional. Finding a need or problem and matching it to a technology at best solves only for the practical aspect of a job to be done. And, frankly, the easiest one. For many people an iPhone hits all three marks; for others it doesn’t. But the magic of the iPhone was not that it disrupted smartphones or computers, it’s that it disrupted software development. The entire value network, of which the iPhone was an element, enabled many more people to create (affordable) software. And the sheer volume of new software opened up a vast discovery process for jobs to be done. Who knew that circumstances in their lives would arise that could be addressed by Flappy Bird or Snapchat or Slack or even Facebook? Consider the apps you are most attached to and ask yourself: do they satisfy a need or do they fit into your life/work in a very specific way that is more than just putting a hammer to a nail?

For me, Apple may never explicitly consider jobs to be done. Certainly, it’s worth asking them if they see a job on the horizon. And nearly as certainly they’re not going to tell us what they see. On the other hand, Apple’s success may never have been nor never will be in matching jobs to technology in a direct way. Nevertheless, Tim Cook’s relentless advocacy for an app store created a whole network of things and protocols and business models that hits all three elements of a true solution for a job to be done for nearly a billion people in a way that we now take for granted.