Afterthoughts: Competing Against Luck by Clayton Christensen

I decided I wanted to become more reflective

The slow burn of contentment

Dark Light

There have been very few non-fiction books that have given me pause. The first was Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman and the second was Atomic Habits by James clear. I welcome Competing Against Luck in this illustrious list, having no previous knowledge of the Jobs theory Christensen explores, the opening chapters got me hooked as deeply as any book I have read. It is a theory that I can see myself using on a weekly if not daily basis to interface with the world around me. It took me until near the end of the book to understand why the Christensen decided to name the book in the way he did, luck would have been my answer to a lot of the questions he explores, now I can Jobs to be done theory.

Needs are analogous to trends—directionally useful, but totally insufficient for defining exactly why will cause a customer to choose one product or service over another. Simply needing to eat isn’t going to ause me to pick one solution over another—or even pull any solution into my life at all.

What Christensen does well to begin with is establish the parameters of the Job To Be Done theory. The crucial element for me was differentiating this theory from the idea of customer needs prevalent in many a marketing frameworks. My understanding is that a customer need is hollow and one-dimensional whereas understanding of a Job To Be Done is multi-dimensional across functional needs, emotional needs, and social needs. Taking the popular milkshake case that Christensen prizes, the customer need being solved by a milkshake could conceivably be thirst and / or hunger. Yet upon further digging, this functional need for sustenance however had a low weighting in the customer’s decision to purchase a milkshake. Instead, the emotional need for having something to do while commuting to work was the primary reason.

First, if you or a colleague describes Job to Be Done in adjectives and adverbs, it is not a valid job. It might describe an experience that a customer needs to have in order to do the job, but it is not a job, as we have defined it here. For example, “convenience” is not a Job to Be Done. It might be an experience that might cause a customer to choose your product rather than a competitor’s product, but it is not a job. A well-defined Job to Be Done is expressed in verbs and nouns––such as, “I need to ‘write’ books verbally, obviating the need to type or edit by hand.” In contrast, the sentence “We should aspire to be more honest” is a noble goal, but it’s not a job.

Christensen warns that even if a Jobs to Be Done approach is embraced and leveraged, once a product goes to market, it is very easy to fall into the trap of leaning on the sales data generated versus keeping strictly to what the Job to Be done is. Over several chapters he explores how this occurs, whether it is complacency or structural hurdles.


Highly Recommended. Competing Against Luck is an all-time read for me. It has given me a theory with which to deconstruct the business world, one that I imagine I will use on a weekly if not daily basis.

Related Posts

The slow burn of contentment

If you ask people their most enduring moments from the last year, I would wager the majority would…