Competing Against the Future: A book review by Bob Morris

competing-against-luckCompeting Against Luck: The Story of Innovation and Customer Choice
Clayton M. Christensen, Taddy Hall, Karen Dillon, and David S. Duncan
HarperBusiness/An imprint of HarperCollins (October 2016)

How and why you really can create products and services that you know, in advance, will be in demand

In essence, marketing creates or increases demand for whatever is offered. That was true in the ancient markets in Athens and Rome and it remains true today of marketing initiatives throughout the world. There are two basic approaches: create something better than what is now available or create something entirely new.

I have read all of Clay Christensen’s previously published books and most of his articles. His ideas have had wider and deeper impact than those of any other thought leader of which I am aware. That will continue to be true as the global marketplace becomes more volatile, more uncertain, more complex, and more ambiguous than at any prior time that I can remember.

In Competing Against Luck, written with Toddy Hall, Karen Dillon, and David Duncan, Christensen asserts that “the foundation of [his and his collaborators’] thinking is the Theory of Jobs to Be Done, which focuses on deeply understanding your customers’ struggle for progress and then creating the right solution and attendant set of experiences to ensure you solve your customers’ jobs well, every time. ‘Theory’ may conjure up images of ivory tower musings, but I assure you that it is the most practical and useful tool we can offer you.”

Moreover, “Good theory helps us understand ‘how’ and ‘why.’ It helps us make sense of how the world works and predict the consequences of our decisions and actions. Jobs Theory [a term interchangeable with Theory of Jobs to Be Done], we believe, can move companies [and more specifically, their leaders] beyond hoping that correlation is enough to the causal mechanism of successful innovation.” This is a key point and helps to suggest the meaning and significance of this book’s title.

Christensen and his colleagues can help business leaders to develop the critically important ability to “make innovation a reliable engine for growth, an engine based on a clear understanding of causality, rather than simply casting seeds in the hopes of one day harvesting some fruit.”

Although it took eight years to develop the Theory of Disruptive Innovation and write the book to explain, it took Clay Christensen and his colleagues two decades to hone the Jobs to Be Done Theory of Marketing that they introduce in this book. “What explains the difference? I had a treasure trove off data about disk drives, which yielded the theory of disruption. We had no such luck with our Jobs Theory research. We had to collect the data person by person, company by company. There have been no short cuts.”

This book offers no short cuts to the process of “competing against luck” but it does help those involved in that process to understand not only what causes what to happen but also, more importantly, to understand how things work. “If you know how innovation works — what truly causes innovation to succeed — your efforts don’t have to be left to fate…Leave relying on luck to the other guys.”

Now that the Theory of Jobs/Jobs to be Done Theory of marketing has been thoroughly explained in this book, business leaders have the abundance of information, insights, and counsel that can – and will — prepare them to create products and services that they know, in advance, will be in demand. They can replace the “tired paradigm” of “playing the odds” with a theory that explains “how things work.”

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  1. Rick Mueller on October 8, 2016 at 8:48 am

    Bob, I’m a little surprised after reading that you’ve read most of Christensen that you accept the premise that this book is authored by him. Disruption Theory was always about competing against non-consumption; this book is nothing but standard marketing pabulum with Christensen’s name on the cover. I’d say his (Christensen’s) managers destroying his brand along with yet another cornerstone on which authentic Disruption is based.

  2. bobmorris on October 8, 2016 at 9:17 am

    Thank you, Rick, for your comments. As Christensen explains, he had three collaborators but (appropriately, I think) provides the first-person narrative on their joint behalf.

    He notes that it took them two decades to hone the Jobs to Be Done Theory of Marketing that they introduce in this book…and probably others along the way.

    Apparently I think more highly of the book than you do. Fair enough. There was emotional intelligence before Dan Goleman and, yes, disruption theories before Christensen.

    I see this book as a contribution to the on-going conversation in which you and I are now engaged.

    Best wishes and warmest regards.

    • Rick Mueller on October 8, 2016 at 10:06 am

      > Apparently I think more highly of the book than you do

      Not just the book but the backtracking in methodology that it represents. Check out the Forbes interview at Top of page 2 the question is on whether a firm can do a job so well that it can’t be disrupted – and the answer is “yes”. Think about that – no scientist or any learned person ever says “never”. Marketers on the other hand, say whatever they need to to make the sale, including (and perhaps particularly) “never”.

      It’s a clearly fraud, Robert – and I thought you’d want to know.

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