Product Innovation Through a Different Lens


It’s common for operators and vendors to build products and services to fit into a specific preset category. These products and services are often justified by joining a “product category” which aims to answer a problem within a given segment. In many ways, this is considered solid thinking.

Harvard Business School Professor and author of Innovators Dilemma, Clay Christenson, has a different way of thinking. Christenson produced a theory which suggests marketing opportunities should be looked at through a lens of hiring a product to do a “job to be done” or JTBD. He uses a milkshake study to reinforce this theory.

He explains a milkshake is not merely in a “milkshake category” with other milkshake competitors, but also a product competing with foods “on the go” that has certain characteristics. Christenson found many morning commuters turn to a milkshake as their breakfast of choice. Intrigued by this notion, Christenson interviewed commuters and found many commuters purchased milkshakes because it is something to conveniently hold while driving to work. With the help of a milkshake, these morning commuters were filling his/her need to break from boredom and keep occupied while driving with one hand on the wheel. Other benefits Christenson found was these milkshakes were thick and took time to consume, elongating the experience which was important on a slow commute, and further they provided something consumers could use to suppress hunger until lunchtime. These items mentioned are the “job to be done” (JTBD), not the simple consumption of a chocolate milkshake.

With the above information in mind, it can be determined that this product is not only competing with other milkshakes, but other foods that are easy to consume “on the go,” and take some time to consume. This theory allows brands to see a much larger competitive set and market size, than many would have originally thought.

Christenson’s theory would suggest in this example that milkshake manufacturers should not focus on trying to make their chocolate milkshakes more chocolatey as an innovative step; rather, consider adding something unexpected to the milkshake as a “random surprise” to the consumer — like fruit pieces. This would add another element into the milkshake to address boredom during a morning commute. Christenson argues that when building or innovating a product through this lens, the integrated experienced becomes your competitive advantage.

As an operator or vendor, what is the “job to be done” of members? For example, do you believe the member was purchasing personal training, or was the job to be done “somebody to keep me accountable?” If the latter, what, as an operator or vendor, can be done to enhance that “job to be done.” Do wearables to help keep the client accountable to cardio sessions? That’s how to innovate, according to the professor.


Emmett Williams is the President of MYZONE. He can be reaching at 312.870.4800 or

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