According to Clayton Christensen, the customer is the wrong unit of analysis for innovators to focus on. Instead, focus on the job that customers are trying to get done when they use your product or service.
There were lots of thought-provoking ideas offered at the World Innovation Forum conference, which concluded yesterday in New York City. But one particularly stands out for me -- and it came from a presentation by disruptive innovation expert Clayton Christensen of Harvard Business School. Christensen took issue with the conventional wisdom that understanding your customer is important to successful innovation.
How could that not be the case? Well, according to Christensen, the customer is the wrong unit of analysis for innovators to focus on. Instead, he said, focus on the job that customers are trying to get done when they use your product or service.
This may sound like a minor distinction, but Christensen went on to discuss a topic he and several coauthors explored in a 2007 article in MIT Sloan Management Review: Finding the Right Job for Your Product. One example? A fast-food company discovered that a significant portion of its customers were "hiring" its milkshakes for an unexpected use: as a food to consume early in the morning, while driving on a long, boring morning commute.
By focusing not on the customer for the product but, more specifically, on what the customer was trying to do -- consume a filling food on a boring daily drive -- the fast-food company could customize the product for its early-morning milkshake buyers in ways to make it more effective in that function. It also gave the company a greater understanding of its competition -- which, in the case of the morning milkshake, ranged from bananas to doughnuts.