Photo Remy Steinegger
“I had thought the destination was what was important, but it turned out it was the journey.”
– Clayton Christensen, How Will You Measure Your Life?
Last week the world lost one of the greatest business minds of all time, Clayton Christensen. In thinking about how to talk about his life and passing, we considered focusing on his creation of the concept of disruption or his Jobs-to-be-Done method (both of which are immensely important), but what struck us first and most forcefully was, quite simply, his kindness.
Our CTO Brant DeBow had the rare chance to meet with Christensen and share the profound impact Christensen had on his work. Brant said Clayton was kind and humble, and that the meeting was one of the biggest highlights of his career. Though his accomplishments were larger than life he wasn’t the least bit arrogant. He was fully engaged, gracious, and warm. He was a rare combination of extraordinary business acumen and exceptional humanity.
The thing is, Brant’s story isn’t unusual. Ben Thompson spoke of his impact, Michael Horn of his kindness, Harvard of his profound generosity of spirit.
Those aren’t necessarily common traits in business. And he carried those principles into his theories, finding ways to do things and create products that bring value and real delight into people’s lives for less than they would normally pay.
His was a philosophy of kind innovation — of creating products and services that are better because people deserve them to be and not just because it creates value for stakeholders (though he was very, very good at doing that, too).
In 1995 he conceived of the idea of “disruptive” innovation, and while that concept has been over- and mis-used, it was transformative and has been called the single most important business idea of the 21st century. His understanding that fringe concepts can and do infiltrate and overtake the dominant ideas of the day was groundbreaking.
He told us that success is not a requirement to innovate. He allowed us to fail up.
Here at BiTE his hand is in everything, though he never knew it. There isn’t a move we make that isn’t informed by his elegant concept of Jobs to be Done.
“For me, this is a neat idea,” Christensen writes of the Theory of Jobs to Be 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.”
Christensen believed (and we have watched it bear out in our own work how right he was) that customers don’t simply “buy” products. He believed customers “hire” products to do a series of complex social, emotional, and functional jobs.
“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.
Let me illustrate with a personal story. I’m 6-feet-8-inches tall. My shoe size is 16. My wife and I have sent all our children off to college. I live in a suburb of Boston and drive a Honda minivan to work. I have a lot of other characteristics and attributes. But these characteristics have not yet caused me to go out and buy The New York Times today. There might be a correlation between some of these characteristics and the propensity of customers to purchase the Times. But those attributes don’t cause me to buy that paper—or any product.
If The New York Times doesn’t understand why I might choose to “hire” its product in certain circumstances and why I might choose something else in others, its data about me or people like me is unlikely to help it create any new innovations for me. Correlation does not reveal the one thing that matters most in innovation—the causality behind why I might purchase a particular solution. That answer, I believe, is found in the job I’m hiring a product or service to do.”
That idea of a product doing more than just what it says on the tin has completely transformed the way we look at product development. It has changed the way we talk to customers, rewritten the questions we ask, the way we code, and the goals we make.
And, as a result, we have made better products that surprise and delight our customers.
We hope he would be proud.
“You can talk all you want about having a clear purpose and strategy for your life, but ultimately this means nothing if you are not investing the resources you have in a way that is consistent with your strategy. In the end, a strategy is nothing but good intentions unless it’s effectively implemented.”