Leading companies who to launch innovative products often have to face a tough fact: 70% of innovative products fail to find a sustainable market. And, this is also true of innovation start-ups, making it that much harder to get senior management to commit to creating an innovative spin-off company. Many of these difficulties would be alleviated, if, somehow, we could refer to principles which could help us to develop innovative products that people would be willing to buy. Investors would feel that their money is going to the right company, senior management would feel that their investments are backing the right projects and innovation managers could develop their products with improved insight.
But the fact remains. Examples of failed innovative products abound. Just thinking spontaneously, I can find many products that have never really found their market. For example:
- when Microsoft launched its Zune, an audio device primarily designed to listen to music, much like Apple’s iPod, it failed to find its market. As a consequence Microsoft ended up retiring the product prematurely.
- Renault’s Vel Satis, a high-end automobile which was designed to compete with Mercedes and BMWs and was also retired prematurely
- Google’s knol, which served as an alternative to Wikipedia, was also discontinued
- Apple’s Newton Smartphone, developed in the 90s, met failure, as well. More recently, Apple’s Map App was met with scepticism, and sometimes, mockery, prompting Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO to apologize.
And again, the general feeling is that it’s much easier to create line extensions than it is to create a new product category. Conventional wisdom has it that creating a new category is much harder because there is so much we don’t know about the market when we’re creating a new product. As Clayton Christensen often says, the data we have to assess the market is about the past when, when we’re creating a new market, we would ideally need data about the future. So I guess this provides at least some explanation on why it’s so difficult to create new products.
In order to develop new innovative products that consumers will be willing to buy, the key is finding what customers need to do on a recurring basis. Clayton Christensen terms this as “jobs-to-be-done”. In other words, as we go about living our lives, jobs arise in our lives: there’s stuff we need to get done in order to go about conducting our lives. And these “to do’s” are surprisingly recurrent and stable throughout time.
For example we’ve always had to transport information from point A to point B on a regular basis at very different points in time. The Romans would use messengers to get that job done. Later on, in the Middle Ages we would use carrier pigeons. A century ago, one way to transport information was through telegraphs and then, at the beginning of the 20th century, telephones replaced telegraphs. And, today, we use all kinds of different tools to transport information from one place to another, including emails, cell phones, and regular paper mail.
When we’re trying to develop a new product we need to be sure that it’s going to address a job that we try to get done in our daily lives. So, if somehow, somebody could invent a new way to transport data in a better way than email, or cell phones, then, presumably, this kind of innovative product would easily find its market and would therefore be part of the 30% of innovative products that actually succeed.
Bottom line: an innovative product is successful if and only if it addresses a job that we are trying to get done in our daily lives on a recurring basis.
Next week, I’ll share more insights on how to develop innovative products that people are willing to buy, using the “jobs-to-get-done” theory.
In the meantime, how would you develop innovative products that people are willing to buy?
- For a presentation on the “jobs-to-get-done” theory, please refer to Clayton Christensen and Michael Raynor’s, Innovator’s Solutions, chapter 3.
- For antoher presentation on the “jobs-to-get-done” theory, please refer to this video.
- For a discussion on the “jobs-to-get-done” theory, please refer to this website.
- For an article showing that the nature of our “jobs-to-get-done” remain unchanged, despite changes in our technological environment, please refer to this article.