How the ‘jobs-to-be-done’ theory will change how you think about your life

by | Apr 30, 2013 | General Productivity


The Theory (with examples)

In Clayton Christensen’s book, How Will You Measure Your Life, he talks about his jobs-to-be-done theory. The theory states that when a consumer (me or you) buys a product, they buy it to perform a particular job.

The theory says that when a marketer positions a product in a way that address its job-to-be-done, the product will be more successful because it directly addresses a need that consumers have. (Don’t worry, the theory has implications for your life, too). Christensen gives the example of a fast food joint that sells milkshakes.

The company started by segmenting its market both by product (milkshakes) and by demographics (a marketer’s profile of a typical milkshake drinker). Next, the marketing department asked people who fit the demographic to list the characteristics of an ideal milkshake (thick, thin, chunky, smooth, fruity, chocolaty, etc.). The would-be customers answered as honestly as they could, and the company responded to the feedback. But alas, milkshake sales did not improve. (Source)

Instead of trying to make the milkshake tastier, Christensen’s team advised the company to position the product around it’s job-to-be-done: to make people’s commutes more interesting. The milkshake was hired in place of other pieces of food because of how long it lasted, and how convenient it was to buy one. Sales skyrocketed after the company created “a morning milkshake that was even thicker (to last through a long commute) and more interesting (with chunks of fruit) than its predecessor”. When they positioned the product around its job-to-be-done, sales took off.

Another example of a company that has made changes to center their product around its job-to-be-done is Dutch Boy.

Another example of a company that has made changes to center their product around its job-to-be-done is Dutch Boy.

Putting it into practice

I’m a firm believer that a person can benefit by questioning the different elements of their life. Since reading about the theory over a year ago, it forced me to question a number of elements of my life, and the job I hire them to do. Ultimately I think that the elements you decide to question in your life should be up to you (as well as your decision to actually question anything at all). However, a useful place to get started is to work backwards from where you allocate your time to what jobs you hire those things to do for you.

Here are a few that helped me rearrange certain aspects of my life, and hopefully they help you too!

What job do you hire social media for?

By understanding the job you hire social media for, you are able to then be mindful of how your actual usage of the services matches up with your intention. For example, do you hire Facebook to keep in touch with your relatives and friends, and end up clicking through pictures of attractive girls you hardly know for an hour or two on end? (I swear I’m not speaking from experience here.)

This was one of the main reasons I deleted my Facebook account; I found that I hardly ever hired it for a useful job. I recently created a new Facebook account to keep in touch with volunteers and campers from a camp I volunteer at which helps kids and teens affected by cancer. I now use Facebook exclusively for that ‘job’, and kindly decline friendship requests from friends not in that tribe.

Likewise, I hire my twitter account predominately to maintain and create new connections with individuals interested in Buddhism and meditation from around the world. Though some of my actual friends follow me on the service (I’m not sure why some of them do – Buddhism and meditation are far from their wheelhouse), I mindfully try not to change what I say to fit their expectations since I hire twitter for a different job.

What job do you hire your phone for?

I use my iPhone a lot, and hire it for a wide range of jobs. It’s (in no particular order): a texting machine, an email machine, a video game device, a scheduler, a calendar, a twitter and Facebook client, a camera, an MP3/podcast/audiobook player, and a budgeter.

After realizing how much I hired my phone to do for me, I upgraded my phone plan and bought a new phone, and downgraded my Internet plan at the same time to pay for the difference. After all, I hire my phone to do so much for me, why not provide myself with a better tool to perform those jobs?

What ‘job’ do you hire your girlfriend (or significant other) for?

This one might seem a bit strange: aren’t you supposed to love your significant other, and not treat them as some means to an end?

Of course, but there is still a reason she is in my life. I know that I don’t hire her to pay the rent; I hire her for companionship. Understanding this allows me to focus more on things that are important, and less on things that aren’t when it comes to my relationship. It also points me in a direction where I should be investing my time and attention when it comes to my relationship.

Conversely, by understanding what jobs she hires me to do, I have found that we have been able to dive much deeper into our relationship. What jobs do you hire your significant other for? Your family? Your siblings? What jobs do they hire you for?

What job do you hire your job for?

No, the world won’t implode if you answer this question. Do you work only to pay the bills? To help people? To make a difference?

By dissecting what you hire your job for, you are forced to take a step back from your work and see how your work feeds into the bigger picture of your life. If you hire your job to provide you with a pay check, is it performing the job you hire it to do? If you hire your career to help people or make a difference in the world, is it? How could you hire your work to make a bigger difference?

Photo credits: milkshake.

Written by Chris Bailey

Chris Bailey has written hundreds of articles on the subject of productivity and is the author of three books: How to Calm Your Mind, Hyperfocus, and The Productivity Project. His books have been published in more than 40 languages. Chris writes about productivity on this site and speaks to organizations around the globe on how they can become more productive without hating the process.

Pin It on Pinterest