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Happy engineering in innovation

Updated: Dec 4, 2023

Wichtigkeit des Innovationsmanagement

Image: What are the functional, emotional, and social "jobs to be done" when getting a haircut? Would you prefer a hair artist or a hair-cutting drone?

In "Happy Engineering," a trend is evident that complicates the focus on true innovation. Instead of concentrating on real needs and value for users, innovators are fixated on the coolness and trend of a technology. Those guided solely by technological trend management engage in innovation without keeping an eye on the market or attempting to force a technology onto it with much luck. This approach poses the risk of investing significant financial and temporal resources in solutions that ultimately nobody desires.

The problem always comes before the solution

In the world of innovation, it's crucial for engineers and innovators to first develop a deep understanding of users' real problems—even before delving into personas. It's not just about treating superficial symptoms but understanding the root of the challenge. This process requires an intensive on-site analysis of the challenges users face on their journey. The recognition that a solution only makes sense when the problem is clearly understood is central to achieving a subsequent problem/solution fit.

When we buy a product, we essentially ‘hire’ something to get a job done. If it does the job well, when we are confronted with the same job, we hire that same product again. And if the product does a crummy job, we ‘fire’ it and look around for something else we might hire to solve the problem.

Clayton M. Christensen

The Job to be done: Understanding user needs

The concept of "Jobs-to-be-done" (JTBD) was significantly developed by Clayton M. Christensen and his colleagues. Christensen is a pioneer in this field and has deepened the concept in his lectures and writings such as "The Innovator's Dilemma," "The Innovators Solution," "Competing Against Luck," etc. He emphasizes that people buy products and services not because of their specific (technical) features but to accomplish specific tasks or "Jobs."

The JTBD framework goes beyond traditional market segmentation, focusing on understanding consumers' true motivations. Other researchers and practitioners, including Anthony Ulwick, founder of Strategyn LLC and author of "What Customers Want," Jim Kalbach with "Jobs to be done," and Bob Moesta, author of "Demand Side Sales," have further developed the concept of Jobs-to-be-Done. They all stress the importance of not only looking for functional aspects but also considering the social and emotional motives.

Overall, JTBD is not a single method: it’s a lens, a way of seeing. JTBD lets you step back from your business and understand the objectives of the people you serve. To innovate, don’t ask customers about their preferences, but instead understand their underlying intent. Ultimately, JTBD seeks to reduce the inherent risk in innovation and ensure product-market fit from the outset.

Jim Kalbach

Analyzing alternatives: A solution-neutral perspective

There are always alternatives for users, whether it's doing nothing or using other technologies. Therefore, it's crucial to analyze the Jobs-to-be-done of users independently of the solution. An example is the job "Consuming video content as an alternative to traditional television, regardless of time, place, and device." Understanding this Job-to-be-done has brought video streaming and video-on-demand as solutions to the market, displacing traditional television, cinemas, and video rental stores.

Understanding the Why: Key to value creation

The fundamental question of "Why" is crucial for creating value. Why does the user integrate a solution into their life (or reject it), and why do they choose against another solution or opportunity? Answering these questions allows for the development of solutions that are not only functional but also emotionally and socially relevant. By applying this principle, innovations can arise that provide significant value to users and, therefore, create sustainable business value for the provider.

Value and payment: The reality of innovation

Value alone is not enough to be successful. Innovators must ensure that the value is significant enough for users to be willing to pay in some form and switch from existing solutions. Here, the human aspect comes into play regarding habits and many innovation resistances. The "Innovator's Dilemma" and adoption/diffusion research state that it's easy to first win customers (innovators and early adopters) with cool solutions, but moving the majority requires a deeper understanding of their motives and resistances.

Understanding the economic realities and users' willingness to pay is crucial to create successful innovations for large markets.

From problems to solutions: The role of technology

After the problems have been properly identified, the search for suitable solutions comes into play. Technologies are the tools that show how solutions can be built to solve problems sustainably. This phase is crucial to translate ideas into reality, first as prototypes and then as MVPs, ensuring that the developed solutions are not only innovative but also practical and effective.

Conclusion - Happy engineering in innovation

"Happy Engineering" in the sense of creating solutions with trendy technologies based on their coolness mostly leads to unintended and inefficient solutions. The focus should be on understanding real problems, fulfilling user needs, and creating innovations that provide real value to society. A balanced approach that considers both technology and user needs is crucial to maximize the value of innovations.

Yetvart Artinyan

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