Jobs to be Done is a set of principles that help us model customer motivation and predict what they will do in the future. In this episode, we talk about one of the principles of JTBD: Solutions come and go, but Jobs largely stay the same. 

  • The more abstractly a job is defined, the more it will stand the test of time. The job “I want help becoming a better salesperson” will probably be around as long as commerce exists. The more granular the job, the easier it is to define a solution, but the more prone the job is to 
  • It’s critical to understand that a JTBD describes a market, not an individual. An individual customer’s JTBD may come and go, but a market JTBD is stable. 
  • Solving a well defined job will help you survive creative destruction and give you a north star to guide marketing and product efforts.


Following is a lightly edited transcript of The North Star of an Enduring Business.


Eric White: There’s a principle of JTBD you cite in the book that says: “Solutions come and go, but Jobs largely stay the same.” Can you talk a bit about what you mean by “Jobs largely stay the same”?

Alan Klement: First off, we have to think about how abstract we get with our jobs. A very abstract JTBD might be “I want help becoming a better salesperson.” That JTBD has existed as long as capitalism and commerce have existed -- as long as people have wanted to sell things, they've wanted to become better at selling those things. 

But suppose I want to get more granular with that and define the Job as “Help me become better at managing a sales team, so I can generate more revenue for my business”. That JTBD hasn’t been as long lasting as “Help me become better as a sales person.”. You can imagine a thousand years ago, someone wanting to become better at selling the goods I sell. 

Eric White: Right, the main intention of JTBD is to explain what the customer feels like they need to do to make their lives better. Zooming out reveals a more timeless struggle, but it’s vague, while zooming in is a little more granular and actionable, but also a lot more prone to modernization. 

But the solutions we choose to help us get our jobs done come and go and vary depending on our situation. If I want to be better at sales and it’s a thousand years ago or I’m just starting out, I may find a friend who can help me and teach me, but as time goes on maybe I go to school or buy a book or take an online course or buy software to help me keep track of what I’m doing and have a better idea of what I need to do next. 

Alan Klement: But all these solutions are still pointing toward that really high level job which is “Help me become a better salesperson.”


Eric White: In a previous episode we talked about a guy named Andreas. He was struggling to generate sales for his business. Eventually his JTBD went away completely because he sold his company. 

Someone commented on the article and asked a great question about whether or not Andreas’ experience contradicted this principle that Jobs really don’t change very much. So I wanted to point out that it’s really important to understand that JTBD is not about an individual. JTBD is about a market opportunity. We may find that Andreas and other people who share his struggle have a JTBD that come and go depending on their situation. But if there’s a market with that struggle today, it’s a pretty good bet there’s a market of people with that struggle tomorrow and a couple of years from now. 


Eric White: This principle is helpful, but we need to ask: “How does it help me make progress as a businessperson?”

Alan Klement: Of course, great question! We should always make things practical and avoid living in theory land. 

This principle helps us understand how we can build long lasting businesses that survive creative destruction. Revlon is a great example. Charles Revson understood that Revlon is not in the business of selling cosmetics, they’re in the business of selling hope. 

John Palmer did something great with Hallmark. John Palmer is the grandfather of JTBD. When he was working at Hallmark in the 80’s, he helped them understand their business is not to create greeting cards, they’re in the business of helping people improve their social relationships with other people. That’s important for Hallmark, because you can’t make the same greeting card twice. You have to constantly innovate new types of greetings cards or keep innovating on top of the cards you’re making today. 


Eric White: That’s the first one. What’s the second point?

Alan Klement: The other part, and this is what we’re doing with JTBD when we’re doing our research when we’re trying to apply the theory to innovation, we’re trying to build what I call a vector of progress. The whole idea is that we have to create an appropriate model of customer motivation that helps us predict what customers will buy in the future.

This thinking helps us understand what kind of data we need to gather, but also how we should model those data. Once we model those data, we can then figure out how to change the systems customers belong to. Not only that, but  we need a model that helps us change those systems in an evolutionary way. What I mean by that, is that if you don’t think in this evolutionary way, you can get too far ahead of your customers. This is what we call “out innovating” or building products that are ahead of their time. 

For example, if I went back in time 20 years ago and showed you an iPhone, you might think it was neat, but I doubt you’d be in love with it. That’s because if you think back to what the world was like 20 years ago, or in Jobs language, what the system customers interacted with 20 years ago, the iPhone wouldn’t fit. People weren’t really using the internet all that much, the internet was a playground. There was no app store, no facebook, no instagram, no Twitter, there was no Amazon prime. Even MP3 players were rare. I had one and it was a curiosity, but I think most of my use was actually on my CD player. 

So, for me, that’s why this principle is actually one of the most important parts of Jobs theory. If we can’t model behavior, then we’re leaving our businesses and innovation up to chance.