Archive for the Tag 'Clayton Christensen'

Job-Focused Innovation

Point: When innovating, look at the “job” the customer hires a product to do
Story: At the World Innovation Forum, Clayton Christensen cautioned companies against focusing only on customers when they create incremental innovations. Instead, he recommended understanding the job that the product is hired to do by those customers.

To illustrate the “product’s job” concept, Christensen described a fast food chain’s milkshake sales. At the demographic level, many milkshake buyers are working-age people. But the demographic similarity is not what drives people to buy milkshakes. (When the company researched demographically similar people, the results did not improve sales.) In fact, a focus on age and gender missed the job that milkshakes perform — why do people “hire” (buy) the milkshake? What job do they want the milkshake to perform?

Through further research, the fast food chain found that about half of milkshake sales occurred in the morning. These buyers came into the restaurant by themselves, bought a milkshake and nothing else, and drove away with the milkshake rather than consuming it at the restaurant. Looking deeper, researchers learned that the buyers were commuters, and the job of the milkshake was to provide distraction on a long commute and to tide them over until lunch. For this job, the milkshake competed with bananas, donuts, breakfast bars, and coffee. Commuters hired milkshakes over the competition because milkshakes take a long time to eat, don’t slosh or leave crumbs, and can be held in one hand or be put into a cupholder during the drive.

A very different group of milkshake buyers came in the afternoon and evening. These buyers were predominately dads with little kids. The dads were buying milkshakes for an entirely different job: that of assuaging guilt over not having enough time with their kids. Kids liked the milkshakes, and the dads could finally say “yes” to something and feel good about themselves.

Understanding the jobs people hire milkshakes to do is important when it comes to incremental product improvements. The two jobs for milkshakes call for diametrically different innovations. Thicker milkshakes would delight the bored commuter, but they would frustrate time-pressed dads because kids take too long to finish thicker shakes.

Simply put, innovations that would boost sales in one group would displease the other group. Commuters might want improvements like increased thickness, small added fruit chunks, and a grab-and-go purchase system that lets customers buy a milkshake without standing in the regular food line. In contrast, dads might want a smaller, thinner milkshake that provides fun but quick treat for the kids. The strategy for innovation in this case may be to have two different shake formulations: one for the morning and one for the afternoon/evening.

The point is to understand WHY someone buys the product, not WHO buys the product. The demographics of milkshake buyers are less important than the fact that one segment buys the product as a distraction and protracted meal while the other buys it as a sweet attraction and quick desert.


  • Delve into the job(s) of the product, not the consumer(s) of the product.
  • Segment by purpose, not person.
  • Identify and innovate around job performance dimensions rather than product performance dimensions

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The Innovator’s Emerging Market Opportunity

Point: Current non-consumers (rather than current customers) may represent the best opportunity for an innovationclaytonchristensenwif1

Story: The future of solar power may be in the markets of Mongolia rather than in the high-tech companies of Western countries, said Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen at the World Innovation Forum.

Christensen’s recent visit to Mongolia led him to this view. In Mongolia’s capital, Ulan Bator, Christensen saw a very popular product in local markets: cheap solar panels attached to small portable TVs. Rural herders were buying these solar-powered products, and they were buying the products without needing government inducements to do so.

In the West, solar power competes with established power grids. As a result, solar has been seven years away from cost-competitive performance for 35 years. Solar still costs too much and needs government support (grants, subsidies or tax breaks) to create even the current low levels of adoption.

Adoption of solar power is low in the West because solar power competes with anytime/everytime electricity from 24-hour power plants and ubiquitous power grids. Sunlight, in contrast, is sporadic.

For Mongolians, the imperfections of solar aren’t a problem because the alternative is either no electricity at all or expensive disposable batteries. Almost one-third (32%) of Mongolians still live an off-grid, semi-nomadic life style. They move their collapsible, felt-lined homes to follow their flocks of goats, sheep, yaks, horses, and camels across the high plateau of Asia. Mongolians don’t expect flip-of-the-switch power for air-conditioners, hair dryers, or halogen mood lighting. Untold hundreds of millions live without power in Asia and Africa.

Christensen’s evidence suggests that solar power has the greatest opportunity to shine where it faces no preexisting electrical infrastructure. The rise of solar power may come from expanding the total base of electricity users, not from replacing one highly-optimized incumbent electrical system with another emerging innovation. For emerging technologies, emerging markets can be a key because they represent large populations of non-consumers for which the new idea needs to out-compete nothing.

The larger point is that Mongolia symbolizes a larger market of non-consumers with different needs and different requirements. Sometimes, an innovative product that can’t compete head-to-head with incumbent may nonetheless be vastly superior to the alternative of “nothing” in the population of consumers. Many companies have used this strategy to good effect.

For example, Southwest Airlines considered the car and bus — not other full-service airlines — as its primary competition. Intuit’s competitor for TurboTax software was the pencil, not other tax software packages. Tata’s Nano low-cost car competes with 2-wheelers in India. Non-consumers of air travel, tax software, and cars, respectively, were the targets for these new products, and non-consumers were a much larger markets than existing customers.


  • To find new markets, study non-consumers, not current customers
  • Find markets in which a new innovation is better than nothing, despite the innovation’s imperfections
  • Avoid head-to-head competition with a well-optimized incumbent.

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