At Harvard Business School, Clayton M. Christensen spent years seeking an answer to one question: Why is success so hard to sustain?
To better understand his question, think of Yahoo! The company which once was the giant, most successful internet company in Mid-90s, failed so bad in less than 15 years! Clayton explains in his book an interesting theory of "Jobs to Be Done" which I think could have saved Yahoo! if it was applied by Marissa Mayer when she took the CEO office. So, what is the "Jobs to Be Done" theory and how it could have saved Yahoo!?
In his interesting book "Competing Against Luck", Clayton explains his theory through the milkshake dilemma. In this example, he was asked to help a fast-food company to sell more milkshakes. The company had done its homework, they brought customers onsite and asked them "How can we make our milkshakes better so you'd buy more of them?" Even with customers explained what they thought they would like, they couldn't figure out what to do. Clayton and his team thought of approaching the question in totally different way, they asked "What job causes people to come to this restaurant to "hire" a milk shake?" Interestingly, it turned out that people who "hire" milkshakes in the morning, "hire" them to help them stay awake and occupied while they make their morning commute. On the other hand, people who "hire" milkshakes in the afternoon, hire them for totally different "job": to convince their kids not to stop by a toy store or ask for an unhealthy snack after they pick them up from school. By looking at this example, the same product was hired by the same customers to do two totally different jobs depending on the time they consume it.
Understanding the job which your customers hire your product to do is the core of any successful business. Let's go back to Yahoo! and try to understand how the theory of "Jobs to Be Done" could have rescued the business. I will use the most popular and "used to be" successful product of Yahoo!, which is Yahoo mail. When Marissa Mayer became the CEO, Gmail was on its way to eat Yahoo mail. If she asked the right question, "What job do people "hire" Gmail to do?" The answer would be, people "hire" Gmail for basic sending and receiving of emails, but besides that, they "hire" Gmail for a single sign-on to suite of interesting products including Youtube, Android, Google Docs, Chrome and many others.
Gmail is the single gate to that eco-system which Google built to satisfy almost everything a customer need on mobile. So, for sending/receiving emails, should I "hire" Yahoo mail instead of Gmail? If I can do the same job by hiring either, however, by hiring Gmail I can access that entire suite of amazing products, I will definitely hire Gmail. If Yahoo leadership asked the right question "What job do people hire our products to do?" they would definitely end up with the one conclusion, people need to hire an eco-system, not solo products for their different needs. In conclusion, if you don't ask the right question "what job do people hire my product to do?" you will end up developing the wrong product or targeting the wrong customers.
I highly recommend this book "Compete Against Luck" for any organization seeking better customer understanding and more innovation.