Stephen Wunker and Sunand Menon on an Imaginative New Approach to Problem-Solving

“There’s a process to drawing out great ideas, so that we don’t all have to be Leonardo da Vinci.”

Stephen Wunker is the Managing Director of New Markets Advisors, author of Capturing New Markets: How Smart Companies Create Opportunities Others Don’t and co-author of Jobs to be Done: A Roadmap to Customer Centered Innovation. He’s a frequent contributor to Harvard Business Review, Forbes, and The Financial Times. Recently, he sat down for a Heleo Conversation with Sunand Menon, the president and founder of innovation execution firm New Media Insight LLC, to discuss the importance of broadening your perspective and thinking outside the box in order to accomplish both professional and personal goals.

This conversation has been edited and condensed. To view the full conversation, click on the video below.

Sunand: To do a good job and be successful, you need to have a mix of the right characteristics of the who, the what, the why, and the how. A lot of work and research has been done on the who. Professor Linda Hill from the Harvard Business School has talked about collective intelligence, or “Collective Genius.” Clayton Christensen has spent a lot of time on the what and the why of opportunity.

Then there’s the how, which is going to be the focus of today’s conversation. How do you find that opportunity in a repeatable fashion, and how do you execute on that?

Stephen: There’s a process to drawing out great ideas, so that we don’t all have to be Leonardo da Vinci. That’s the who, right? If you can get da Vinci, please do, but it can be a little difficult.

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Jobs to be Done enables you to look at markets in a broader, more imaginative way. People aren’t out buying products and services. They’re trying to get jobs done, and certain products and services happen to fit a particular need. That happens whether it’s a consumer purchase or a business-to-business purchase. Take the example of ice cream. If you think, “How am I going to sell more ice cream?” you might think along traditional vectors like price, promotion, and distribution. But if you think about why you, specifically, had ice cream on the last occasion you did, then it gets more rich in detail. It’s often about celebration, indulging in a moment—or bribing the kids. [Those perspectives] create many new vectors for innovation, and new avenues of threat, as well.

Sunand: And the idea is to make it repeatable so you can do it in any application. Now, we’ve been doing it in a business context, new businesses or products. This methodology can be used in a wide variety of areas. We just had a pretty historic election, against what all the polling organizations thought. They predicted a certain outcome, and we got a very different outcome.

Presumably they thought that they had a good understanding of what the voters would do. Clearly that wasn’t the case, so how would you use your methodology in a situation like that?

Stephen: A really good marketing professional would recognize that people aren’t buying features, and they’re not buying policy prescriptions—except for a tiny sliver of the population. They are buying a satisfaction that is much more fundamental, almost visceral: “Make me feel like I’m making a difference, feel part of a movement, have hope that things will actually change.” These are really basic things to do, right? In this case, a presidential candidate had a fairly focused message at his core. The emotive message registered.

We can use this in a nonprofit context. We’ve used this with military in Afghanistan. I use this approach even with my children (but you can’t tell them that).

Recently, they wanted to go see a New England Patriots game, and that’s a very expensive proposition. Digging in a little bit deeper, I understood the real jobs they were trying to get done were around having a shared experience and being able to tell friends about it, so we went to a professional lacrosse game, which is vastly less expensive. You can get right up close to the action, meet the players afterwards, and can invite friends and friends’ families.

Sunand: From a business perspective, when I was working on creating an index business, using that methodology was a game changer for us. When we went in, we had a certain idea of what the customer wanted. We spent a few months building prototypes, building a product, came back and showed it to them. They used it for a period of time, and we asked, “Are you ready to buy?” And they said, “No, because it does a good job in replicating what these other industries are doing, but we didn’t take into account that our customers need to have these benchmarks.”

“We realized that by asking the right questions, we were able to understand what they really needed. It was actually a second job that they had never described before.”

The way to address this [and create value] was by helping them with their own internal benchmarking purposes, so the business model completely changed. We realized that by asking the right questions, we were able to understand what they really needed. And there was actually also a second job to be done that they had never described before—they wanted to create investment strategies for some of their custom clients. They weren’t able to do that themselves, and they weren’t able to go and ask the traditional providers to do that. We realized that that’s something we can do.

To summarize, we came in thinking there was a certain job to be done which was not researched. Upon research, testing, and learning, we found out, actually, there are two other jobs, and those are the ones which made us successful in building that business.

Stephen: I love that example because it’s not like you’re creating the new smartphone or iPad, right? It’s a business-to-business sale. Moreover, you’re reinventing a well-established category. You don’t need to be wearing some white coat and have a PhD to execute this.

The high-level job is important to understand, but there’s often layers of detail beneath that. You want to look at the drivers for why people have different jobs to be done. What are the circumstances, the attitudes, the backgrounds of individuals or companies, and distinguish why certain jobs matters in certain contexts.

Then, what are they doing today? You can extract the pain points there and understand from that what you need to do better, but you don’t want to limit yourself to that. Moreover, you don’t want to miss why they’re doing that.

What are the success criteria in detail to make a solution successful? That’s critical to go from insight to specification. Then what are the obstacles? There are tons of good ideas out there, but a lot of them don’t get taken up. Just as you described with your initial read on the index idea. So understanding those obstacles, and then figuring out how you circumvent them by leveraging your knowledge about jobs to be done. That’s great.

Finally, what’s it worth? Do you need to be cheaper than the competition, or can you price at a premium because you’re delivering so much more effectively?

Sunand: It sounds like you have an example.

Stephen: You bet. Let’s take something completely different from indices—dinner. We worked with a large food company on thinking about new approaches to dinner, particularly among people who were eating at home on a weekday night. We discovered that dinner wasn’t just about getting fed. Yes, that’s part of it, but it’s a time of connection. It’s also the demarcation between coming home from work and beginning the time at home.

You’re actually delivering on many jobs—self expression, displays of affection. What does that mean in terms of success criteria? Things need to be healthy, maybe a little bit of green. I feel like I’m getting some diversity in the diet, for instance. In turn, I’m feeling responsible and I’m also showing my care because I’m helping to keep our family healthy.

Then the obstacles, because there’s a lot of routine in dinner. How do you circumvent that? Maybe you don’t try to introduce a totally new ritual, but you piggyback on others. If people are making salads, how can we help make your salad more interesting? If they’re making chicken, how do we make sure that you’re not having the same kind five nights a week?

What we were able to do was find real insights around what people were looking for. Not just in terms of saving time, but saving mental energy. Where they were spending their mental energy, what they were trying to avoid, not just what they were trying to get done. The company launched a successful product line as a result.

We see this time and again in different industries. I was at a medical device company yesterday, and don’t tell me that there aren’t emotional jobs in medical devices, even for the surgeons and the following physicians. Emotion matters in all of this. We are not computers rationalizing and optimizing our lives. We’re people. We’re multidimensional.

Understanding people from that 360 degree angle, both their functional and emotional sides, is useful for any product.

SunandOne of the things you have to take into conjunction with the methodology is that there’s some up-front work: making sure the organization is ready to do this type of work. There’s also some work at the end of that, when you’re actually going out and executing it. I’ve had varied degrees, to be very candid, of success in that. Sometimes, with certain initiatives, it’s been very easy to do that.

Essentially, there’s some ingredients: getting the management buy-in, getting the right kind of people involved, making sure you don’t have the short-term financial pressures, making sure there’s sufficient investment allocation. Those are some of the elements of success which have helped in a lot of the ventures that I’ve worked on.

For anyone who’s going to do this exercise to try to find new innovations, new products and services, or anything else they want to create—what are the other things that they should be looking at which would help them along the way?

“You’ve got to know why you’re doing this. What are you looking for? Not in terms of the solution, but what’s that solution going to do?”

Stephen: I’d suggest two things. One, you’ve got to know why you’re doing this. What are you looking for? Not in terms of the solution, but what’s that solution going to do? Is it going to redefine your category? Is it going to be incremental growth? Is it going to differentiate you? The strategic comparatives will give you a bit of focus in understanding the jobs that people are trying to get done.

When MINI looked at the small car market, which was traditionally a very unprofitable, boring corner of the automotive industry, they were looking for ways to compete at a premium. Understanding the jobs that people had around self expression, individuality, they realized that people would pay quite a lot of money for that. The strategic lens informs the research approach and what you get out of it.

The other thing is that you are not looking for just one idea. It’s an expansive concept that leads to lots of ideas. You may not be able to implement lots of ideas, but there needs to be a tolerance to look at them, explore them, reshape them a little bit before you come back and say, “Okay, this is actually what we’re going to go to market with.”

Sunand: So there’s a cultural alignment prioritization.

Stephen: That’s right, and there’s common language. We use an example in the book of the fastest growing company in the Fortune 500, and how they’ve used Jobs to be Done as a way to create common language between their customers, the people in the field who are surveying the customers, and the folks in the back office that are actually creating products and services for the customers.

It’s not a game of telephone where the needs of the customer get interpreted through five different filters. Rather, everybody is aligned on what that customer is trying to accomplish, and how they’re going to be measuring success.