Innovation and Strategic Agility

Innovation (JTBD):

Most of the following are my thoughts on two books. One is about a process for innovation (‘jobs to be done’ – Christensen), and the other is (‘XLR8’ – Kotter) a method for helping organizations capture market opportunities.

Clayton M. Christensen writes a great deal about ‘jobs to be done’ in his book ‘Competing Against Luck’. A ‘job to be done’ in Christensen’s view is any product or service that people are willing to pay for.

Framing innovation challenges through the lens of jobs customers are trying to get done is an interesting perspective. It offers what theories of disruption do not provide: an understanding of what causes customers to pull products and services into their lives.

The Jobs To Be Done perspective allows us to review wants from a customer perspective. The theory that JTBD lays out is one that seeks to refine the contexts of customers in their act of consumption providing for a multitude of product and service options.

Part of the problem I have run into talking with Companies about this kind of research or customer focus is that organizations find it difficult (rightfully so) to rethink assumptions about service and product offerings. The reasons are simple and obvious. Rethinking your products and services might call for retooling your ‘assembly line’, both an expensive and time-consuming process, particularly if that service or product is not viable or cannibalizes an existing service or product.

Rethinking assumptions about services and products should be engaged rarely and with clear intentions about the extent to which we could win long term by successfully reinventing our services and products.

Normal Organizational Layout

Christensen’s revelation in ‘Jobs To Be Done’ is exciting and interesting but it does not help organizations grapple with the fact that retooling or rethinking what you provide is expensive and dangerous.

Strategic Agility:

As business models mature and as companies historically have achieved market dominance an invisible, immutable change happens, they seek to pattern and replicate the existing dominant product or service offering.

“The most fundamental problem is that any company that has made it past the start-up stage is optimized much more for efficiency than for strategic agility”

Kotter, ‘XLR8’

Businesses mature into entities that resist the temptation to act like startups. Definitionally, startups quickly see and seek market opportunities and try to achieve solutions to those opportunities in new and powerful ways, ways that solve for the Job To Be Done (JTBD) better than previously possible.

The question becomes how do we capitalize on our market dominance while effectively capturing new market opportunities? Kotter in his book XLR8 provides some advice and a recommended framework that mixes the dynamics of a startup with the consistency and profitability of a market leader. I don’t have time to fully flesh out his structure but it involves creating a secondary aspect to an organization that relies upon and integrates with the traditional organization, termed by him as a ‘dual operating system’:

“The answer is twofold. First, a dual system is more about leading strategic initiatives to capitalize on big opportunities or dodge big threats than it is about management. Second, although the dual system is a new idea, it is a manner of operating that has been hiding in plain sight for years. All successful organizations operate more or less as I describe during the most dynamic growth period in their life cycle.”

John Kotter, ‘XLR8’
Dual Operating Layout for Strategic Agility

By recognizing and reconciling both the natural position and structure at the enterprise level as well as focusing on existing and potential customers armed with a methodology like “Jobs To Be Done” for enacting innovation and a structural system like the “dual operating system” for enforcing a startups focus on new markets, we can overcome constrained markets and restricted execution.

Kotter and Christensen offer independent theories that combined create a methodology and a framework for successfully altering the nature by which corporations operate and a map for ongoing success …

Christensen, Clayton M.; Dillon, Karen; Hall, Taddy; Duncan, David S. (2016-10-04). Competing Against Luck: The Story of Innovation and Customer Choice. HarperCollins
Kotter, John P. (2014-02-25). Accelerate: Building Strategic Agility for a Faster-Moving World. Harvard Business Review Press.