The Physical Side of the Job-to-be-Done

Last Friday was a big day for me. Specifically, it was my last day formally with SAP.

I was lucky enough to couple the big event with a strong experience that both echoed and reenforced my emotion; my younger sister's graduation from medical school. After years of focus, both of us are setting off on journeys in new areas. More than just setting out on those adventures, the ritual of meeting, drinking, and reminiscing seemed appropriate. It even convinced me of the merits of setting out on a drive across country. The physical, mental, and emotional pilgrimage is a tribute to what I feel to be leaving some of the good people I've worked - and it's also a experiential representation of the journey to a new location and industry.

The trek west will be the real thing. More than the intellectual experience of deciding to uproot, it's the most primal representation I can force on myself.

Over the last two days, I've been thinking a lot about this. Why it seems important? And what it's importance means?

I keep coming back to the concept of the Job-to-be-done.

The theory of "Jobs-to-be-done" is a rather straightforward one. Humans have a basic set of jobs. They want to be good parents and providers. They want to communicate effectively with their loved ones and colleagues. They want to beaccomplished and appreciated. And so on.

Over time, the theory suggests, that the products we hire have changed, but the jobs stay the same. For instance, while I might have hired a buck knife to "Get me safetey" in the 1800's, today I might hire a satellite phone for the same job.

The basic understanding of what a job is probably feels like it has no relevance to the journey west. But it's the next level of the theory that's helpful. Bob Moesta and Clay Christensen, who developed the theory of Jobs-to-be-done, often say that understanding the job is only the first step. Once you understand the job, you can start to outline the experiences required to complete the job. These experiences fall into three buckets:

  • Functional
  • Social
  • Emotional

For instance, the Satellite phone I might hire to get me to safety may not need to be any bigger than a pen... but for it to have the right emotional appeal, Iridium may want to house its antenna in a large rubber device that feels indestructable to me.

Many marketers have written on the non-functional characteristics of products and services. Ted Levitt (who famously coined the "You don't buy a quarter inch drill, you buy a quarter inch hole" line) used to talk about the difference between the product and the "whole" product. With the theory of the job-to-be-don, Moesta and Christensen gave us all a framework for understanding what we needed to put in the "whole" product.

To me, the physical drive west seems more and more to satisfy a part of the emotional job of transitioning. While posting to Facebook, Tweeting to the world, and writing good bye notes do me some good, there is something truly different about subjecting yourself to a real experience outside the confines of a computer screen. There is something real about sweat, about discomfort, and about effort. Without it, the respect I'd hope to show (whether it's rationally necessary or not), just can't be enough.

It's a very primal thing. Physical representation supercedes digital displays of emotion.

And that makes sense. We humans are simple things that evolved to exist in a physical world. As complex and brilliant as we come, it will take millenia of evolution (or at least few decades of borg like digital reprogramming) to change that.

But despite the sensibility of the statement, I get the sense that modern products and services are evolving without enough consideration for some of our anamalistic tendencies. Worse yet, the trend is only poised to continue as more of our commerce, communication, and community is brought online. As this change occurs - it's vital that we recognize the value of physical experiences. We need to remember the job that we're doing for our customers and get beyond what they need on paper, appealing to their basic humanity. It might not be the most cost efficient option, but providing tangible experiences can be critical in getting the job done right.

So the questions I'd pose to all the entrepreneurs out there are:

  1. What jobs are you doing for your customers? 
  2. And how can you enhance the emotional and social experiences they require by engaging through their physical world?