Book Excerpt -- The Innovator's Solution - What Customers Really Want Is for You to Do Their Jobs

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RIM’s executives could believe that their market is structured by product categories characterized by some moniker such as "We compete in handheld wireless devices." If so, they will see the BlackBerry as competing against products such as the PalmPilot, Handspring’s Treo, Sony’s CliŽ, mobile telephone handsets made by Nokia, Motorola and Samsung, and Microsoft Pocket-PC-based devices such as Compaq’s iPaq and Hewlett-Packard’s Jornada. In order to get ahead of these competitors, RIM would need to develop better products faster than the competition. Sony’s CliŽ, for example, has a digital camera. Nokia’s phones offer not just live conversation and voice messages, but short text messaging as well. The PalmPilot’s consummately convenient calendaring, rolodexing and note-keeping features have almost become industry standards. And does the fact that Compaq and Hewlett-Packard offer stripped-down versions of Word and Excel software mean that RIM will be left behind if it does not follow suit?

Defining the market by the characteristics of the product causes managers to think that in order to beat the competition, Research in Motion would need to build some number of these features into its next-generation BlackBerry device. RIM’s competitors, of course, would be thinking the same thing?all trying to cram their competitors’ superior features into their products in a race to get ahead of the pack. Our worry is that defining market segments in a product-based way actually causes a headlong, arms race-like rush toward undifferentiated, one-size-fits-all products that perform poorly any specific jobs that customers might hire them to do.

Alternatively, RIM’s executives might segment their market in demographic terms?targeting the business traveler, for example?and then add to the BlackBerry those product improvements that would meet those customers’ needs. This framing would lead RIM to consider a very different set of innovations. Stripped-down customer relationship management software might be considered essential, because it would allow salespeople to review account histories and order status quickly before contacting customers. Downloadable electronic books and magazines would obviate customers’ having to carry bulky reading material in their briefcases. Wireless Internet access, with the attendant capabilities to alter travel reservations, trade stocks and find restaurants via global positioning satellites, could be very appealing. Expense-reporting software coupled with the ability to transmit reports to headquarters wirelessly might be a must.

Every executive who has participated in decisions to define and fund innovation projects will empathize with the tortured difficulty of answering questions such as these. No wonder that many have come to regard innovation as a random crap shoot?or worse, a game of Russian roulette.

But what if RIM structured the segments of this market according to the jobs that people are trying to get done? We’ve not conducted serious research on this, but just from watching people who pull out their BlackBerrys, it seems to us that most of them are hiring it to help them be productive in small snippets of time that otherwise would be wasted. You see BlackBerry owners reading e-mails while waiting in line at airports. When an executive puts an always-on BlackBerry on the table in a meeting, what is she trying to do? Just in case the meeting gets a little slow or boring, she wants to be able to glance through a few messages unobtrusively, just to be a bit more productive. When the pace of the meeting picks up, she can slide the BlackBerry aside and pay attention again.

What is the BlackBerry competing against? What gets hired when people need to be productive in small snippets of time and they don’t pick up a BlackBerry? They often pick up a wireless phone. Sometimes they pick up The Wall Street Journal. Sometimes they make notes to themselves. Sometimes they stare mindlessly at the CNN Airport Network, or sit with glazed eyes in a boring meeting. From the customer’s point of view, these are the BlackBerry’s most direct competitors.

What improvements on the basic BlackBerry wireless e-mail platform does this framing of the market imply? Word, Excel and CRM software are probably out?it’s just really hard to boot up, shift mental gears, be productive and gear down these activities within a five-minute snippet of time. Snap-on digital cameras likewise aren’t likely to be hired to get this job done.

However, wireless telephony is a no-brainer for RIM, because leaving and returning voice messages is another way to be productive in small snippets of time. Financial news headlines and stock quotes would help the BlackBerry compete more effectively against The Wall Street Journal. And mindless, single-player games or automatically downloaded David Letterman-like lists of 10 might help the BlackBerry gain share against boredom. Viewing the market in terms of the jobs that its customers are trying to get done would define for RIM an innovation agenda that is grounded in the way its customers live their lives. The good news for RIM shareholders is that this appears to be the trajectory that the BlackBerry is on.

Doing this make-me-productive-in-small-snippets-of-time job perfectly is not trivial, of course. Adding voice telephony to the BlackBerry would increase power consumption. This, however, is the type of challenge classically associated with sustaining innovation. RIM’s biggest issue is probably not a lack of engineering talent; it is deciding which problems it should deploy that talent against.

Who Needs a Camera in a Mobile Phone?

What should Palm do? In the context of the job that the BlackBerry is hired to do, a camera makes no sense. But might it make sense on a product like the PalmPilot that is used to keep track of people? In addition to just displaying a name card, a camera would enable users to store the person’s image as well?helping PalmPilot users be better organized by remembering not just people’s names but their faces too.

In the Japanese mobile phone market, the strategies of mobile telephony providers J-Phone and NTT DoCoMo to add a camera and photo viewer to the mobile phone and to provide the data services required to send and receive low-quality digital photos met with instant success in the early 2000s. Why? A few years earlier these firms had created a booming new-market disruption selling wireless Internet access through services like DoCoMo’s I-Mode. Their customers were primarily teenagers, who had hired mobile access to the Internet in order to have fun with their friends downloading wallpaper and ring tones. The popularity of limited-functionality cameras and photo viewers on these teenagers’ phones makes sense when viewed through the lens of jobs to be done: Mobile phones that send and receive photos offer these young people more and newer kinds of fun.

Should European and North American service and handset providers attempt to emulate this success by incorporating this functionality in their phones? At this writing, we expect camera-equipped phones to take off much more slowly in these markets because many mobile phone users in these markets are adults who seem to have hired mobile phones to get work done or exchange important information in small snippets of time. Cameras and viewers rarely help get these jobs done better. If these companies were to market phones and these services to teenagers and children as a new way to have fun by taking and transmitting images, this product feature could create substantial growth. But if they follow their demonstrated propensity to deploy the functionality as a high-priced feature on phones that serious multitasking adults have hired to get down to business rather than play, our bet is that little growth will result.

If RIM evolved the BlackBerry to help people be evermore productive in small snippets of time, if Palm evolved its Pilot to help people be ever better organized, and if J-Phone’s handsets were optimized to help teenagers have fun, the products would become quite differentiated in consumers’ minds?and each could grow to own a large market share of its respective job. And because these different jobs arise at different points in time and space in consumers’ lives, we’d bet that for a very long time most consumers would opt to own each product individually rather than having a single, Swiss Army knife-like device?that is, until a one-size-fits-all device can do all these jobs without compromising functionality, simplicity and convenience.

Unfortunately, it appears that many manufacturers in this space are now on a collision course. Each seems bent on packing every other competitor’s functionality into a single, all-purpose device. Unchecked, this will lead to commoditized, undifferentiated products that don’t do really well any of the jobs that they once got hired to do. This need not be so. The suicidal trajectory results from framing the market in terms of the attributes of products and the attributes of customers, rather than in terms of jobs to be done.

Summing Up

Identifying disruptive footholds for products means connecting with specific jobs that people?your future customers?are trying to get done in their lives. The problem is that in an attempt to build convincing business cases for new products, managers are compelled to quantify the opportunities they perceive, and the data available to do this is typically cast in terms of product attributes or the demographic and psychographic profiles of a given population of potential consumers. This mismatch between the true needs of consumers and the data that shapes most product development efforts leads most companies to aim their innovations at nonexistent targets. The importance of identifying these jobs to be done goes beyond simply finding a foothold for a new product. Only by staying connected with a given job as improvements are made, and by creating a purpose for your brand so that customers know what to hire, can a disruptive product stay on its growth trajectory.

Related:

Copyright © 2003 IDG Communications, Inc.

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