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Applying the Jobs-To-Be-Done Theory to content

I’m not sure who first came up with this idea, but the Jobs-To-Be-Done Theory is an interesting approach to the product development and marketing discipline which clicks with a lot of people. A Harvard Business Review article in 2016 introduced it as follows: “After decades of watching great companies fail, we’ve come to the conclusion that the focus on correlation [in data about customers] – and on knowing more and more about customers – is taking firms in the wrong direction. What they really need to home in on is the progress that the customer is trying to make in a given circumstance – what the customer hopes to accomplish. This is what we’ve come to call the job to be done.

Oner of the authors of the article was an academic, Clayton Christensen, who – according to the Strategyn consultancy – had been introduced to the idea in 1999 by its founder Tony Ulwick. Strategyn defines the Jobs-to-be-Done Theory as “A theory of innovation that is based on the economic principle that people buy products and services to get ‘jobs’ done, i.e. to help them accomplish tasks, achieve goals and objectives, resolve and avoid problems, and to make progress in their lives.”

As economist Theodore Levitt said: “People do not want a quarter-inch drill, they want a quarter inch hole.”

In practice, this means understanding the situation our customer may be in, what their problem is, and their desired outcome. Then we can sort out how we might get them there. In other words, when something happens, what they want, and what meeting this need will do.

The idea might seem most applicable to product development. However, it can be used more broadly, such as if we’re thinking about creating useful content. For example, we might be inclined to write about why our way of doing things is the best. But anyone interested in that would inevitably be someone looking for information about all the various approaches to a problem. Our limited content wouldn’t cope with what’s almost certainly the real job to be done, which would be to find a definitive list which they can be confident in, with pros and cons, so that they can be reassured nothing important has passed them by.

There’s more on the idea here.