Your job is being threatened! And it’s not cheap labor or outsourcing that poses the greatest threat. No, the greatest threat is that your job will simply disappear because a company from outside your industry transforms the market by helping your customers get their job(s) done in a radically new and better way.

The Job-to-Be-Done (JTBD) theory of innovation says that customers buy goods and services to help them get something accomplished – that thing is called a “job”.  And that job, or group of jobs, is the basis for the market that you compete in. So, it is important that your company stays vigilant and protects its job.

In an increasingly information-driven world, more and more companies are finding themselves susceptible to competition from unlikely sources. For example, do you think the yellow pages industry thought that online search was going to overrun their business 15 years ago? Or, how about Nest making significant inroads in the home thermostat market (and also deeper into home automation) – do you think Honeywell Trane or Carrier saw that coming?

Could they have seen it coming? Should they have? And, most important, could they have gotten ahead of the market to understand the value customers were seeking beyond their products and services? Could added vigilance protect your company’s stake in the customer job – and your job?

If the job that you help customers get done has high information content or has the potential to be done better with meaningful new insight, then your market is ripe for new competition. For example, painting a room has overall low information content or potential. It seems unlikely that an information-based solution will come along and overrun the paint market.

Compare that to the job of staying in shape that various players in the fitness industry try to satisfy. While the physical act of working out may not seem rich in information, there is certainly a lot of potential information related to staying in shape. For example, people want to know things like…

·    How many calories did I burn for a particular workout

·    How many calories did I burn in my everyday walking around at work or home

·    How many calories did I consume today

·    How can I change my routine to burn more calories

·    How can I avoid giving into cravings that undermine progress

There might be 50 to 75 information-related jobs that consumers want to know regarding the underlying job of staying in shape. A startup out of San Francisco, Fitbit, is the market leader in the fitness wearables space, even with formidable competition from Nike, Apple, Jawbone, Microsoft and Garmin. And out of all this competition, one might have thought that Garmin had a strong position to become the leader in the market due to it being a long-time incumbent in the fitness market. They are, in fact, a very distant 4th according to IDC. Such is the reality of competition in the digital world and Internet of Things[1].

And as I sit here listening to Amazon Prime Music over my wireless Sonos speaker, I am struck by another example. I wonder how home audio companies will fare as people start to populate their homes with Amazon EchosTaps and Dots. (If you’re not familiar with this emerging technology platform – you will be.) These devices use a voice-activated service called Alexa that acts as a personal digital assistant, performing a variety of jobs for consumers. For example, Alexa can:

·    Set a timer for some activity – just say, “Alexa, set a time for 10 minutes”

·    Look up some arcane fact – just ask – “Alexa, who played the first Darren Stevens on Bewitched”

·    Order something for the house – “Alexa, add paper towels to our shopping list”

·    Find out the morning traffic on a commute – “Alexa, what is the traffic like on I40 to RDU”

·    Turn on or off lights – “Alexa, turn off the lights in the living room”

·    Play music in a room in the house – “Alexa, play Chatham County Line’s Wildwood album”

It’s this last job that relates to the home audio market. You see, Alexa has a speaker built into the system and can stream music anywhere in the home. The remote speaker companies like Sonos and Bose do sound fidelity very well but not much else. While Bose and Sonos may scoff at the sound quality of the Echo now, how long before people have Echos, Taps and Dots strategically located throughout their home because of the “other jobs” it does better? Will people really want both? Probably not!

And don’t think that Amazon and its futurist leader, Jeff Bezos, have a narrow vision of what this platform will ultimately do. There are possibly hundreds of jobs that Alexa can subsume – and will subsume – over time. In the product description on Amazon, it says that 100 new skills (i.e., ways to get new jobs done) have been added since launch. Which market do you think they will encroach upon next?

As you can see, few markets are safe in the Internet of Things age. That’s the bad news. The good news is that few markets are safe. Companies that get good at identifying customer jobs will certainly find new opportunities for growth.

It’s understandable that the Internet of Things is a hot topic in companies today. We have been working with a variety leading B2C and B2B companies to understand not only how to protect their current jobs but also where they might be able to compete tomorrow – identifying new customer jobs that can guide future innovation.

Do you want to keep your job? If so, know what jobs your customers want to get done – both in and around your market - and do something about it.

[1] Interested in the Internet of Things (IoT), see our other blog post on the topic.

Image via flickr

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