Lead on Purpose

Promoting Leadership Principles in Product Management

What are you really competing against?


In our world of work and business, competition is a real thing. Too often, however, we miss the real competitor. We overlook the root of what our products are really competing against. As Peter Drucker famously said: “The customer rarely buys what the company thinks it is selling him.”

Why do we miss the mark when it comes to competing in products and services? Why do the majority of innovations fall short of their desired objectives? Are you competing against luck?


Clayton Christensen, the world’s foremost authority on innovation, believes the problem is that we’re not asking the right questions. “If you do not know how to ask the right questions, you discover nothing.” After decades of watching companies fail (much of which came through his work on innovation) he says the better question to ask is What job did you hire that product to do?

competing-against-luckIn their upcoming book COMPETING AGAINST LUCK: The Story of Innovation and Customer Choice, Clay Christensen, with his co-authors Taddy Hall, Karen Dillon and David Duncan present the “Jobs To Be Done” Theory (JTBD or Jobs Theory) in a way that clearly articulates a new way of thinking about products. Instead of relying on luck, you can actually predict how your product will do in the marketplace.

The key is to view problems or questions or assumptions through the lens of Jobs to Be Done. Why do your customer ‘hire’ your product? What job did you hire that product to do? Asking these types of questions, and more importantly drilling down and finding the answers, is at the heart of their book.

For decades the approach to product innovation has been gathering the data that tells the story of what customers buy, when they buy, why, how, etc. Clay admits that his theory of disruption, while useful, did not always lead innovators to the right conclusions. Their new Jobs Theory offers something much better: an understanding of what causes customers to pull products or services into their lives.

Why do customer buy? Why do they pull products into their lives? Easy: to resolve highly important, unsatisfied jobs (or needs) that arise. Clay and his co-authors use this metaphor: customers ‘hire’ products or services to solve these jobs that need to be done. And jobs must be defined in the right context.

Circling back, a key focus of the Jobs Theory is focusing on what your products really compete against. One example they give is Airbnb—that company is not just competing against hotels, it’s competing with staying with friends, or not making the trip at all.

The Jobs Theory has been refined and tested through years of research and work. The authors site numerous conversations with colleagues, associates and thought leaders from a host of businesses. Intuit’s Scott Cook and Amazon’s Jeff Bezos are just two of the many examples cited that show how the theory of Jobs To Be Done works in the real world. They apply the theory to other products and companies such as Khan Acadamy, Uber,  Chobani yogurt, American Girl dolls and OnStar among others.

Clay has spent twenty years gathering evidence so you can spend your time, energy and resources creating products and services that you can predict, in advance, customers will be willing to hire.

“Good theories are not meant to teach us what to think. Rather, they teach us how to think.” Grab a copy of Competing Against Luck and soak in the Jobs Theory for yourself. I assure you…it applies to your life today.

Questions: What jumps out to you from your initial view into Jobs Theory? How can you apply it in your work/life starting today? Please leave a comment in the space below.

The Product Management Perspective: The Jobs to Be Done Theory will completely change how product management is carried out.

5 thoughts on “What are you really competing against?

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