The ultimate job to be done

Avi Charkham
4 min readJan 28, 2020

Clayton M. Christensen passed away this week… He left behind him an incredible body of work and books that helped countless companies and individuals find the balance between the short term business pressures and the longer-term, survival, need to always innovate.

I don’t think there is a single concept that impacted me, in my 20 years as a product person, more than Jobs To Be Done. It completely blew my mind when I first encountered it through the 2005 book What Customers Want and later through Clayton’s work.

The simple notion that we are here to serve. That our companies exist to help people achieve progress on something they are struggling with in their lives... Or as Clayton so beautifully put it:

“Every day stuff happens to us. Jobs arise in our lives that we need to get done. Some are little jobs, some are big ones. Some jobs surface unpredictably. Other times we know they’re coming. When we realize we have a job to do, we reach out and pull something into our lives to get the job done.”

“When we buy a product, we essentially ‘hire’ something to get a job done. If it does the job well, when we are confronted with the same job, we hire that same product again. And if the product does a crummy job, we ‘fire’ it and look around for something else we might hire to solve the problem.”

“The secret to winning the innovation game lies in understanding what causes customers to make choices that help them achieve progress on something they are struggling with in their lives.”

The ultimate job to be done

But what I really want to remember Clayton for is his interpretation of the “ultimate job to be done” the one we are all here for. The one he woke up each day for… Improving people’s lives.

In this TED talk, Clayton compares companies and individuals. And discusses metrics of success and how they drive us. In his humble words, Clayton, who spent his life helping teams improve their business results, shares that his conclusion is that business results, important as they are, are not what matters most at the end if you forget the ultimate job your company, your team and yourself are here to do.

Clayton left us with the clear realization that the real goal of any company, or any individual for that matter, is to deliver value and help other people improve. He called it “building people” (what a beautiful term).

Isn’t that the ultimate growth machine? Grow by growing other. Improve your life by improving other people’s lives.

As he was quoted in this WSJ article :

“More and more M.B.A. students come to school thinking that a career in business means buying, selling, and investing in companies. Doing deals doesn’t yield the deep rewards that come from building up people.”

“When I pass on and have my interview with God, he is not going to say, ‘Oh my gosh, Clay Christensen, you were a famous professor at H.B.S., He’s going to say…‘Can we just talk about the individual people you helped become better people?…Can we talk about what you did to help [your children] become wonderful people?’”

The goals you measure “shape” your team’s brains (and hearts)

The brain has an incredible mechanism called RAS (reticular activating system) that ensures we can handle the unmanageable amount of information we need to process every second of our lives. It does so by narrowing our attention and perspective of the world to what “matters” to us NOW. It’s the reason that when you are considering buying a red car you suddenly see only red cars, the reason we inherently optimize for the short term. It’s a survival mechanism and you can’t help it.

This means that you, as the CEO, just like a mentalist have the power to shape what your team’s brains are focused on, what they think about as they wake up and go to sleep. The goals you set wires their brains and narrows their perspective and creativeness to what you think is important NOW.

How will your company make people’s lives better this year?

So whatever your business goal is, if there is one lesson we should all take from Clayton Christensen is that, unlike conventional mindset that prioritizes short term business results, the path to long term, lasting, success is focusing on people’s needs (not who they are but what are they trying to accomplish in life) and make sure that you and your company are the ones who are helping better their lives.

So ask yourself… How will our company improve people’s lives this year? And when you find that answer make sure to reflect it in a metric your team can obsess about. This is your real top-line metric.

RIP Clayton M. Christensen