Friday, September 27, 2013

What job are people hiring your product to do?

I am a product guy, dating back to my days as a design student at Stanford.

I've been a fan of Clay Christensen ever since "The Innovator's Dilemma," and even interviewed him for the student newspaper when I was a Harvard Business School student.

Which is why I'm shocked that I hadn't heard of Clay's "Jobs Framework" for designing products until tonight.

I ran across this framework in a post on the Intercom blog:

This was a popular post that made the front page of Hacker News, but I suspect that most people didn't drill down and learn the details of Clay's framework.  Here's what the post had to say:
"At Intercom, we’re working with Clay Christensen’s Jobs framework for product design. We frame every design problem in a Job, focusing on the triggering event or situation, the motivation and goal, and the intended outcome:

When _____ , I want to _____ , so I can _____ .

For example: When an important new customer signs up, I want to be notified, so I can start a conversation with them.

This gives us clarity."
This is a pretty cool summary, but it doesn't capture the real magic of Clay's thinking.  Instead, you should watch this 4-minute YouTube video of Clay explaining:

It seems that a fast food chain had spent a lot of money researching their milkshake buyers, had done surveys, and made a bunch of changes...which had zero effect on sales.

Clay's insight is that we "hire" products to do certain jobs. The researchers found that 40% of the milkshakes were bought before 8 AM, by solo customers, who immediately drove off in their cars. When they questioned the customers, they realized that the milkshakes were being hired to do two things: 1) Give the customers something fun to do during a boring morning commute, 2) Keep them from getting hungry mid-morning, and 3) Accomplish this while letting the customer keep one hand on the wheel at all times.

The alternate foods (bananas, bagels, candy bars, donuts) were all harder to eat, didn't last as long, and often didn't prevent mid-morning hunger.  The answer was to focus on making the milkshakes more entertaining (e.g. with various mixed in fruits and treats).

As Clay puts it in Harvard Business Review:
"Pierre Omidyar did not design eBay for the "auction psychographic." He founded it to help people sell personal items. Google was designed for the job of finding information, not for a "search demographic." The unit of analysis in the work that led to Procter & Gamble's stunningly successful Swiffer was the job of cleaning floors, not a demographic or psychographic study of people who mop."

What job are people hiring your product to do?

What Should I Build?

I enjoyed reading Natalie Downe's post detailing the story of her startup, Lanyrd:

It's a great story and (spoiler alert!) it has a happy ending.  But the part I'd like to focus on is her advice on how to make sure you're doing your startup for the right reasons:

Build something you care about.
Build something that makes people's lives better.
Build something that will motivate you against all odds.
1) Build something you care about.

Starting a company is probably more work than anything else you'll ever do in your professional life (trust me, parenting is harder, and I have it on good authority that Army Ranger training is even harder than parenting).

To keep going, you need to be working on a project that you can't stop thinking about, even when you try.  I'll find myself thinking about great projects while I'm driving, showering, walking the dog...and inspiration can strike at any time.  That happens because I'm working on things I care about.

2) Build something that makes people's lives better.

Even if you care about something, others might not.  That's why you need a mission that can motivate a wide variety of people.

As a startup, you'll never be able to compete with the Googles and Facebooks of the world in terms of money.  All you can offer is your mission.  Make it count.

3) Build something that will motivate you against all odds.

Running a startup means constantly teetering on the precipice of failure.  I lead a charmed life, and all it takes for me to feel like everything is going to hell is to miss a couple of hours of sleep.

If you're relying on feeling good to be productive, you're doomed.  You need something that will push you through the rough patches, and keep your feet churning, even when you feel like curling up in a ball and sucking your thumb.

Build something bigger than yourself, and you'll have the motivation to keep going, even when you don't care enough to do it for yourself.

The Internet is a Rage Virus

James Hong penned a thoughtful essay on an important topic: "Why there are so many assholes on the Internet."
"There are hard ways to get attention, and there are easy ways. The hard ways are more meaningful, but almost by definition they are more scarce and harder to generate.

The easy stuff on the other hand is just that.. easy. Just do something shocking/offensive/base. It is basically how one got attention in middle school. At some point when people’s desire to get the attention outweighed their need to express themselves in an authentic voice, they decide to become a shock jock."
The shock jock metaphor is apt, but I actually think the truth is even worse.  The Internet is a rage virus.

The other day, I read a Facebook post that was a poorly researched takedown of one of my personal heroes.  As I read this witch's brew of half-truths and innuendo, I found myself filling with outrage, breathing hard, and leaning into the keyboard, ready to vent.

That's when I realized the danger we all face.  The rage virus is even worse than the shock jock for two reasons:

1) It's infectious.  The rage virus turns the people it touches into fellow zombies, seething with anger.

2) It's mindless.  Bad enough that folks turn into shock jocks to get attention; at least those folks have a motivation.  But Internet outrage isn't even conscious.  We read, and like the old Human Torch, we flame on.

There's no secret cabal to blame, no villain to defeat.  The virus is in us.  And the only cure is to do what I did--step back from the keyboard and go for a walk until I could calm down.