“If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” – Henry ford

Sometimes, when we think about innovation, creating new products or services, we think about what is familiar to us. 

You might think I wish to create something that I want or something that I am passionate about. While your passion is crucial to keep your engine going, it might not necessarily be what your customers want. 

There are two primary schools of thoughts when creating new products: 

  1. Ideation: Ideate, brainstorm, test as many ideas as you can, and fail fast. 
  2. Needs and challenges: Find out about your customers’ needs and then serve them.

1] Ideation: Ideate, brainstorm, test as many ideas as you can, and fail fast. 

Many entrepreneurs and product designers adopt this approach. When you fail, and you fail fast, it means you have burned far less money than what you could have lost. 

While that sounds good, what sounds even better is to fail less than to fail fast.

Why does the idea-first approach fail? 

As Tony Ulwick mentioned in his book Jobs to be Done (JTBD), there are three reasons that this approach makes you fail and fail fast if you test it right away. 

  1. More ideas don’t necessarily mean one of them will help and satisfy your customers.
  2. If you don’t know your customer’s needs and desires, you can miss out on great ideas and end up with bad ones. 
  3. Customers usually don’t know the answer and can’t share solutions. They are not scientists, engineers, or researchers. They can’t tell you what they need, but they can tell you about their challenges, desires, motivations, and dreams. 

2] Needs and challenges – Find out about your customer needs and then serve them.

This approach is when you start talking to your customers to ask them about their challenges and understand why they do what they do. And more importantly, what is it that they do.

Your customers buy products or services because one of two reasons:

  1. Reason #1: It will help them achieve what they want to accomplish in a better way. In other words, this product or service will help them do a job they currently do better, faster. 
  2. Reason #2: It will help them overcome a challenge they are currently facing. 

So… Which approach are you following? 

What would you do if you want to follow the second approach and minimize the number of trials and failure cycles? How would you find out about your customer needs and challenges? 

Understanding the jobs to be done by your customers will help you uncover their true motivations and direct you on the path to fulfilling their needs. 

What are jobs to be done? 

Jobs to be done are what customers do. The action that they take. For example, drilling a needle in the wall. That’s the job. 

According to Tony Ulwick, jobs-to-be-done is…

"What a customer is trying to get done (in her work or her life). Includes tasks she is trying to perform and complete; problems she is trying to solve; needs she is trying to satisfy. Customers perform a job in a particular situation or context with more or less constraints." - Tony Ulwick

Learning about the actual job the customer is doing will intrigue you to know more. Perhaps, the customer doesn’t have any issue drilling a needle in the wall. She might even enjoy it and offer to help her friends if anyone wants to drill a needle in the wall. 

You start learning more when you understand “why” she is drilling a needle in the wall. Maybe it’s because she wants to hang a frame, a clock, or even her big TV. 

Then, you start thinking, so to drill the needle in the wall, you need to have the driller, and if you don’t have one, you are left with trouble, and maybe you don’t want to buy a driller to hang one mirror on the wall. Perhaps you do have a driller, but all you want to hang is a small picture frame, and you wonder if it’s worth ruining the wall for it. What if you tried to remove it later on? What if you don’t fancy the position of the frame after hanging it? 

You see, the job itself might or might not be an issue, but once you nail down those jobs that your ideal customer, your perfect person wants to do, it’s where you will start disrupting your thinking process to help them:

  1. Do the job faster and better
  2. Remove the obstacles that keep her from doing the job to be done 

Many people say, “I need a car,” and more often than you think, especially where I originally come from, Cairo. The city of chaos, which has an exciting driving experience that will keep you on edge every second while you are in the car, whether you are driving or not. People who live in London or Paris barely even think of having a car, let alone say, “I need a car.”

The question we want to think about here for a moment is whether those people need a car. Or, is it that they think they need a car because it will help them fulfill a job they won’t think of fulfilling other than having a personal car? 

Do they need a car? 

No, they don’t. The customers “need” to get a job done. 

They “need” a car because it takes them from point A to point B, and if they do have an alternative method that is easier and faster than a car, they wouldn’t really “need” a car anymore. 

The job that they want to get done is to go from point A to point B. The perception of needing a car is limited to the thought that this would be the only convenient and cost-effective method of transportation to fulfill that job. 

So… what job are you helping your customers do better, faster?

Join the waitlist for my upcoming book, “Why no one is buying your product?” to learn more.

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