JTBD Lesson #1: Focus on the higher purpose

16 May 20204 min read

As a Product team, it's tempting to look at the product itself and focus almost entirely about how to make it "better" along parameters that we already measure, especially the ones that existing customers ask for. This is what Christensen calls "sustaining innovation".

What Jobs To Be Done suggests, however, is that we focus on what's behind the product. For photography we can wind the clock back and peer into the "job" behind the product.

I've owned a bunch of cameras like this one. I bought this one at a little camera shop in Hampstead, London, around the corner from where I lived. It's got a super "bright" 50mm prime lens that lets in a tonne of light. Takes beautiful portraits where the background is all fuzzy, like a watercolour, because the Depth of Field is super short. But this is really just a box with a hole in it. The image itself is stored on "wet film"...

We first started "hiring" cameras like this to serve our Job To Be Done back in the 1930s. "Developing" wet film into usable photographs involves fumbling around in the dark with cartridges and soaking special paper in chemicals under a dim red light. But what Product did we hire before this?

Well, if we go back 100 years from the introduction of Kodachrome, we find the same job but using a different product: the Daguerrotype.

 This is actually the earliest picture taken of people, taken by Daguerre at 8am, one morning in 1838 from the window where he lived and worked.

This is actually a busy street in Paris, but the long exposure time (~10-12 minutes) meant that moving traffic can't be seen; however, the bootblack and his customer at lower left remained still long enough to be captured on Daguerre's metal plates coated in special chemicals. But what product did we hire before this?

Well, before that, we were trying to do the same thing from memory, slapping colour oils onto canvas.

This one of the Great Fire of London in 1666. Painted by an anonymous painter in 1670. So it had an exposure/development time of around 4 years :) But what product did we hire before that?

Well, even before that, we were scratching the limestone walls of caves with burnt bones to represent religious ceremonies and hunting scenes.

This one is from the Magura Cave in Bulgaria. These cave paintings are at least 10,000 years old. For all we know, for as long as we have been able to use tools we have been attempting to fulfil the same purpose.

What's common here? What are people trying to do? We've been hiring different products to do this same essential job for pretty much as long as we've been around. Think about it for a second.

When you look at the history of all the different ways we have serviced the underlying JTBD, it starts to become clear what the underlying JTBD might be…

The "higher purpose" JTBD we can observe here, this is "To share a visual representation of an experience or a moment in time". From the cave paintings, to oil on canvas, daguerreotypes to wet film, and today's smartphones and other digital devices – these are all different products that serve the SAME job.

Think about how we do this today… Facebook, Snapchat, WhatsApp, iMessage, etc, etc.

Whilst the photo quality itself was initially much poorer (under-serving) because it is MUCH FASTER to share, it came to dominate the JTBD. Since initial introduction, the photo quality has steadily improved… 

When trying to identify the higher purpose, don't just focus on the functional – look for the emotional and social dimensions as well. Whenever there's a special moment, we can't help ourselves. We seem to have a deep-seated desire to capture and share…

And so you get scenes like this, where most people seem to be experiencing the moment through the screen of their phone. (Except for this little old lady, who has achieved some zen-like state and is content to just be there and soak it up.)

So, that's the first insight: Focus on the JOB not the product. To find the job, understand the higher purpose. The "Why" behind the hiring of a product.


Want to learn more? Here's 5 lessons you can get from Jobs to be Done (JTBD):

The intro: JTBD (Jobs to be Done) – An Intro

(Above will get updated with links as they are published!)

Previous Posts on Jobs to be Done:

Health Tracking Jobs to be Done

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