The Right Approach to Innovation: Stephen Wunker on Jobs to Be Done

Today on the blog we’re featuring part 1 of an interview with Stephen Wunker, one of the authors of JOBS TO BE DONE: A Roadmap for Customer-Centered Innovation (AMACOM November 2016). Innovation is one of the central buzzwords of our current era–but so many companies go about it the wrong way. Read on for Wunker’s explanation of how to do it right. Stay tuned for part 2 next week!


  1. Many companies focus on asking customers what they want or how satisfied they are with their past purchases. Why do these common questions represent the wrong approach to innovation?

The analogy we often make is that using past behavior and customer wish lists to innovate is like trying to drive using only the rearview mirror.  When customers talk about what they want in a product, they’re drawing on what they already know, often from looking at what your competitors are already doing.  If you want to design truly innovative products that customers will seek out – and even pay a premium for – you need to understand what tasks they’re struggling to get done in their lives.  We call those tasks their jobs to be done.


  1. What is the Jobs to be Done concept, and why is that a better way to innovate?

The Jobs to be Done concept basically says that customers “hire” products to get things – or “jobs” as we call them – done in their lives.  When the products that they’re currently using make it difficult to get a job done, they’ll start thinking about “firing” those products in favor of new ones.  Think about hailing a taxi before Uber.  You might have to wait out in the rain hoping a cab would stop for you; then once you got a ride, you would nervously check your wallet as you watched the meter continue to tick up on the drive.  When you look at how many pain points there were around satisfying such a basic job – confidently being able to get from point A to B – it’s no wonder that consumers were so willing to embrace a solution that could improve the experience.


  1. In the book, you talk about jobs being both functional and emotional. Why is that important?

When I said that Uber helps you confidently get from point A to B, you’ll notice that that includes both a functional and an emotional piece.  Getting where you need to go is important, but so is knowing that someone will actually pick you up as you race to catch a flight or that your driver won’t bring you in circles to increase your fare.  That emotional piece is what helps companies set themselves apart from the competition, and it’s often what allows you to create premium offerings that you can charge more for.


  1. When we talk about a lot of new companies, whether it’s Uber or Airbnb, we often say they’re disruptive. How does this idea of disruptive innovation relate to Jobs to be Done?

It’s no coincidence that disruptive innovation and Jobs to be Done were both popularized by Clayton Christensen.  He’s a professor at Harvard Business School and was actually my mentor for a number of years.  His two theories are closely related.  Disruptive innovation helps you understand when a market is overshooting what customers actually need – when it’s primed for someone to step in and excel along the dimensions that really matter.  Jobs to be Done tells you what those dimensions are.  It tells you how to design the products or services that customers really want, even if they’re struggling to articulate exactly what it is they’d want in a new offering.


One response to “The Right Approach to Innovation: Stephen Wunker on Jobs to Be Done

  1. Pingback: How to Make Your Company More Innovative: Stephen Wunker on Jobs to Be Done | AMACOM Books Blog

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