I've long been a fan of Harvard Business School Professor Clayton Christensen. His landmark 1997 book The Innovator's Dilemma has changed the way managers deal with innovation and competition in today's fast-moving markets. He's continued to expand his ideas into addressing the problems of specific industries (his book on health care, The Innovator's Prescription, is well worth reading).
One of Christensen's key insights is his conception of products and services as things that people "hire" because they have a job to do. He urges marketers to stop looking at customers as members of this or that demographic group, and instead to focus on their "jobs to be done" and to design products that do these jobs in a way that's as quick, simple, convenient and inexpensive as possible.
Last October, in an interview about the problems and future of the news reporting industry, Christensen made a very interesting side comment about politics and the presidential campaign. Read on to see it…
To all of us, there is a really interesting piece of ongoing work to do that has emerged from the election for presidency in America. As a result of a polling exercise, it looks like Mitt Romney is losing by about 20 percent amongst voters who are women aged 35 to 55. Everybody starts to make the gears in their heads go: “Well, how does Romney get a larger portion of the vote from voters 35 to 55?” Well, if you think that what causes people to vote or buy something is the characteristics that they have in common — what they’re doing is the very sin that the jobs-to-be-done theory is trying to absolve. If you think that the market is created by these demographic segments, the way to get more of the votes from women aged 35 to 55 is to offer all of them everything, because they have nothing in common other than that particular demographic characteristic.It's basically a shift of perspective: instead of "How can we appeal to people in Group X?", you ask "What jobs do a majority of people want to hire a president (or other official) to do?"
And so you do that, demographic by demographic. And the only way that you can ever win, if you think that’s the way the market is structured, is to keep offering everything to everybody, which then causes you to lie, which then causes you to pick apart your opponent. Every election — it just is an awful experience for everybody.
I wondered how interesting it would be to organize a campaign around “there are different jobs to be done out there, amongst the voters.” What would happen to the election if the combatants understand the theory of jobs to be done? The reason I say that is, (a) it’s just interesting to us, as we are trying to understand it, but (b) we see most newspapers doing the very same thing, thinking about how they can arrest the decline of membership amongst the younger people and professional people and so on.
It would be interesting to hear Christensen elaborate on this further, but for now, it's a provocative notion. Lord knows we could use some fresh thinking in our politics.