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The Sad Straw Man Attacks of “Jobs to be Done” Evangelists. #JTBD

The Sad Straw Man Attacks of “Jobs to be Done” Evangelists. #JTBD

In their “Jobs to be Done” (JTBD) literature, Ulwick, Christensen, and others seem unable to resist setting up two naive argumentative straw men – setting them up so they can knock them down. It’s quite irritating that no one calls them on it. So let me do it.

Straw Man #1:  “Before JTBD all anybody did is ask users what they wanted and go build it. What failure”.

Straw Man #2: “In the old days, people used only demographics to understand product users and buyers. What failure.”

These Straw Men don’t fit with reality. JTBD started to slowly emerge sometime in the late 1980’s or early 1990’s depending on whose claim to parentage we listen to. It didn’t really come out onto the public stage as a “thing” until the 2000’s. Before JTBD there were many incredible innovations that hit the market – none of which seem to have suffered from the lack of a JTBD methodology.

Here are a few of my own thoughts:

I started developing software in 1982. All of our work was built around trying to understand the true value of a product to the people who used it.

In 1987, human computer interface expert and Stanford professor Bill Verplank consulted with me on a re-design project (through IDEO). Together we were entirely focused on sorting out what mattered to our customers up against what was possible. (This was an exceptional time for me and I learned a tremendous amount from Verplank’s wisdom.)

I had coffee with a good friend yesterday who was at Nike from 1980 to almost 2000. Among other things, he was director of marketing for Nike Golf when they brought Tiger Woods on board. I told him what I’ve been hearing in JTBD and he just laughed. “We ALWAYS looked primarily at determining the value to consumers!”

Why do the JTBD folks need to set up these straw men? When someone of the stature of Christensen sets up a straw man this transparently wrong, it’s quite disappointing. (He seems to use the demographics version most often. Ulwick seems to use the “they just asked users” version most.)

Now just because these straw men are used doesn’t invalidate JTBD – it is, however, concerning (especially from Christensen). It’s worse that these straw men are often used by JTBD followers and acolytes to suggest that they have found the single most powerful way to think about innovation. That is decidedly not true.

There needs to be more critical discussion about JTBD itself but these straw men are used to avoid discussion. This is important, because from what I read and hear, JTBD isn’t a radical change. It’s a program designed to fit “innovation” neatly into bureaucracies and make management comfortable that it makes innovation less risky.

We can discuss whether I’m right and whether that’s wise later. For today let’s stop giving these guys a free pass for knocking down lightweight straw men.

Copyright 2018 – Doug Garnett – All Rights Reserved

Categories:   Innovation, Methodology


  • Posted: June 28, 2018 08:35

    Rene Bastijans

    Please note that Ulwick created his Outcome Driven Innovation (ODI) method on top of JTBD theory. ODI is NOT JTBD. As a theory, JTBD does not prescribe what method to use.
    • Posted: June 28, 2018 14:33

      Doug Garnett

      That’s interesting. But I also guess it’s one the things that makes Ulwick’s work seem so designed to make bureaucracies happy - layers of terms, ODI fits with classic “incremental improvement” programs like Six Sigma, etc...