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How to develop innovative products that consumers will buy? (2/2)

I’m always suprised to see how much we’ve turned failure into a nessary pre-requisite for success. I was talking to a Partner of large VC firm and he informed that only 20% of his firm’s investments turned out positive; another Partner in Corporate Venture Capital Fund informed me that one typically needs to loose 10ME before getting proficient at investing in innovation start-ups, whose success rate is frighteningly low. So, I guess that the main reason behind failure being so widespread is that most innovations fail. But, what if we could refer to a theory of innovation which could maximize our success rate?

Today, I want to apply the theory of “jobs-to-get-done” to photography. In the past 20 years, we used chemical-based photography and Kodak was the leading company in the market. We would often take multiple pictures of single events in the hope one picture would turn out to be particularly good. Later on, we would develop the pictures and select the few that were the best and ask to have those printed out several times. We would share these duplicates with our families. But, there were many pictures we would share with our family and friends, because we deemed that they weren’t good pictures. So it turns out that approximately 98% of pictures that have been taken have only been viewed once. So this shows what jobs we were trying to get when taking pictures. The key job can be summed up as : “taking great pictures and sharing them with our family and friends”. In order to get this job done, we would multiple pictures, and have multiple pictures developed in order to share the best ones with our family and friends.

Courtesy of Apple ©

At the same time, we had the possibility of organizing our pictures. And some of us would buy notebooks in which we could organize our notebooks as we pleased. But, given that this was very time-consuming, we have never really devoted time to doing it and the notebook-for-organizing-pictures market never really picked up. This shows that we have chosen to do one job (“taking great pictures and sharing them with our family and friends” and not another (“organizing all of our pictures”). So what, you may ask?
The key is that despite technological change our jobs-to-be-done remain exactly the same. In other words, when chemical photography morphed into digital photography, our priorities remain the same. We have devoted time to sharing our pictures with friends and family and, as a consequence, the application of attaching a picture to an email is the killer application. However, as we have not prioritized organizing our pictures, applications dealing with classifying pictures have not met strong demand.
Again, this example shows that a new product is successful if and only if it helps us to accomplish a job that we are trying to do on a recurring basis at different times in our lives. This explains why attaching a picture to an email or to a text message is a widely used application; it also explains why products helping to transport information from point A to point B are popular. Finally, it explains why other innovative product, such as applications helping to organize picture, are not successful.

Before closing, I want to share one last example that illustrates how important it is develop products according to the jobs targeted customers are trying to achieve in their daily lives. This example more than any other examples, also illustrates the tendency we have and technologically-driven companies, to try to push a technology onto the market, in an attempt to create an opportune market need. More often than not, what ends up happening, is that the market on which a specific technology has been pushed on, turns out to be lackluster and unresponsive. I’ve also found that technologist and technology lovers have often fallen in love with their technology and anticipate that the market will reciprocate their love for the technology, too.

The last 5 years, we’ve seen many high school and university textbook companies trying to develop textbooks on tablets. They’re creating a new version of the paper base textbook that is specifically dedicated for tablets such as the iPad. Therefore, using tablet’s enhanced digital capability such as audio and video as well as Internet connectivity, they add audio, video and Internet-based information into the content of the existing textbook. And then, they market the textbook as enhanced version of the existing paper base textbook. This kind of innovation assumes that what high school and university students are trying to achieve when they attend classes is better learning.

In fact, most high school and university students are not trying to learn as much as possible. What they’re trying to do is: “to get the best grade possible while spending the last time possible studying”. Therefore, the product that most fits with this kind of job is not the enhanced digital textbook, but some kind of service which could be called which would be specialized in helping students cram just before exams.

This example shows the natural tendency that innovators have in trying to develop a product which they feel is good for the market but which, in fact, doesn’t meet the requirements of the jobs that customers are trying to get done on a daily basis. When this happens, innovative products fail; when innovative products do meet “jobs-to-get-done”, they succeed.

That’s the secret to developing innovative products that consumers are willing to buy.

What’s your view on how to develop innovative products? How would you go about it? Please feel free to share your thoughts.


Further readings:

  • For an in-depth presentation of the “jobs-to-get-done” theory, please refer to Ulwick’s book, here.
  • For a video showing why products failing the jobs-to-get-done test are worth nothing, please refer to this webinar.

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