Great businesses focus on customers and their Jobs-to-be-done (JTBD), and great customer experiences focus on Jobs-to-be-gone (JTBG). Great UX invents systems that eliminate future effort.
“Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards” 1 is not only an epic quote – there’s no better way to frame an article about how you spend your individual lifetime.
According to the World Economic Forum (July 2020), on average an employee’s working life is calculated at almost 40 years. It’s somewhat of a leveller when you consider how much of our lives are required in the duty of employers, in our jobs. And we spend our lifetimes’ engaged in many Jobs, in every sense of the word 2.
But this article isn’t totally about being employed, it’s about the absurdity that Tesler’s Law provides customers a reduction of effort, by handing the tasks over to working people to solve. Don’t get me wrong, giving time back to other people is a service of great importance. Albeit customers, users, people, humans – whatever you select to call them – changing the world for them in some tangible way is a true act of service. After all, that’s why I and many other people I speak to selected their vocation in the first place.
This article is driven towards getting the balance of task allocation right. When we hand-off some complexity from one group to another, then perhaps something’s gone wrong. The aim of the work is to remove future effort, for all involved. That’s why I’ve come to believe that great businesses focus on customers and their Jobs-to-be-done (JTBD), and great customer experiences focus on Jobs-to-be-gone (JTBG). Great UX invents systems that eliminate future effort.
Yet when I look around, I personally struggle to see where this is actually the case?
Over the years of delivering digital products, in small businesses and large, I’ve experienced an underlying, but growing, sense of scepticism about whether the things businesses select to focus on will genuinely make a difference over the long term. For customers, for people, humanity, the species, for life, for the planet.
It seems we always have a relentless targeting of the next obstacle to solve for a customer, like a perpetual string of breadcrumbs. As if this work will genuinely create better outcomes for human life, and a better world. At least I held that assumption for a long time.
Moreover, with digital products, there seems to be a trend of forcing digital fixes on problems that might be solved through simple changes in perspective or training, but most businesses tend to focus on apps because this is what the company is most capable of delivering. A technology panacea to all human problems. There are plenty of global challenges we cannot ‘app’ our way out of. But I can’t help feeling like humanity’s focus is dissipated. Our individual actions as designers are complicit, because changing long-term ingrained human habits on the inside is way harder than making an app that could help them with their short-term tasks on the outside. (The biggest irony is the apps to reduce app usage)
As I can tell, this situation isn’t caused by ‘bad actors’, but rather by ‘naive actors’, with often good intentions. I hesitate to say there’s some truth to the proverb, ‘The road to hell is paved with good intentions’ 3. My hypothesis was that, in the most part, it’s informed by the way we approach commercial problem solving, and operating within this thing we call Capitalism. So that seemed like a good place to start: I took a look at the mechanics of Capitalism in search of answers. How did it even start?
“Every man is rich or poor according to the degree in which he can afford to enjoy the necessities, conveniences, and amusements of human life” (pp.48). Thus began Adam Smith, credited as the founder of Economics, when describing (almost 250 years ago), the earliest beginnings of Capitalism. Smith’s reasoning is that, because humankind depends upon others to enjoy these things 4, they must devote their skills (‘dexterity’), so that they can exchange the result of that labour with others. The entirety of the Capitalist machine begins to fire and whirl into action, because of what Smith referred to as the ‘Law of Supply and Demand’. It is the striving to enjoy these “necessities, conveniences, and amusements of human life” that compels the whole system to work in the first place. What one human life demands, another human life can supply.
Of course, the entirety of the Capitalist System in Western-most countries is much more complex than this, as Smith attempted to explain in 400+ pages (and of course, has been revised by Economists since). But at its core, its basis, is this concept. The human experience, according to Smith, is to strive to enjoy the “necessities, conveniences, and amusements of human life”.
Your life-time is the most valuable thing you own
This fact is in Ultra HD for me. As a father of 4, my life is pretty busy to say the least! Even simple tasks require logistical planning – simple things like getting out the door in time for the school-run. Ruthless prioritisation is a must, but controlled chaos is generally the rule-of-thumb, in our bustling, busy home.
Having a large family brings certain things into acute focus 5. Things that most people can tolerate. One thing is truly precious to me above all else: Time. Time spent well with my daughters is time well-spent. As you can imagine, my time is a valuable resource. And time spent on other tasks like ‘life admin’ – when contrasted against time with my kids, or my already limited free-time – is time I begrudgingly have to pay. I say ‘pay’ intentionally. I pay a ‘Jobs-debt’, or what Mike Monteiro has called ‘tolls of existence’, or ‘negative jobs’ 6), a cost I owe in my own time and effort because of the many roles I have (and the poor design out there in the world). Some roles I have chosen, many I have not. Steve Krug wrote a whole book on ‘Don’t make me think’ (2005), but my mantra these days is ‘don’t make me do more’. For that reason, any activity I need to do, but don’t want to do, is the behavioural equivalent to a desire line through the park.
And on this topic it seems I have something in common with some particular people on the planet. At a recent conference, Daniel Kahneman was asked “what’s the single biggest piece of advice you would offer people who want to be happier?”
His answer: “Time is a very limited resource and spending it well is the most important decision you’re going to make. Setting up habits and structures that encourage you to use your time in ways that make you happy would be the best advice I can offer”.
And he’s not alone. There’s a reason why Warren Buffet and Jeff Bezos claim that Time is their most valuable resource – not because ‘time is money’, but it’s because it’s ultimately, and absolutely, finite. We’re not talking about time in an objective sense, which could be infinite, but actually ‘time to be alive’, one’s life-span, subtly referencing what Stoic philosophers morbidly referred to as ‘memento mori’.
The importance of Leisure-craft
So yeah, sorry to remind, but – living things don’t live forever. It’s kind of a feature. And therefore Life itself is highly valuable because of its ultimate scarcity. And given that scarcity, the most valuable thing we have is therefore how we choose to spend it. ‘Choose’ being the defining word. Yet not everyone has that choice: It seems absurd that, when considering the finitude of life, we engage ourselves in striving to influence our status, comfort, security, power by means of a system (let’s call it the ‘CapitalistOS’) designed to focus on individual and collective productivity.
The merits of Leisure time have long been lauded. Social Classes in Ancient Greece were defined by their achievement of it. Aristotle cited the absurdity that our lives are defined by a voluntary act of ‘giving up leisure in the pursuit of leisure’, and demanded the release from banality via the removal of manual labour. The entirety of Medieval Scholasticism’s curriculum was devoted to the Liberal Arts (Ars liberales), to free people from the Mechanical Arts (Ars mechanicae). Leisure formed the basis of Utopia, since the Renaissance onward. Bertrand Russell wrote an entire book devoted to it, In Praise of Idleness. There are social theories to describe it: Theory of Leisure Class. ‘Passions’ (or ‘hobbies’) are distinct in their high intrinsic value to individuals (Vallerand 2010, 2015), and evidence suggests that ‘Leisure-craft’ can significantly improve the wellness of individuals (Petrou & Bakker, 2016) 7).
So if leisure is the ability to choose how to spend our time, then perhaps leisure is actually the most valuable resource on the planet? And if so, what are we doing to design for it?
But choosing how to spend one’s time is a luxury not well distributed. Leisure inequality is second only to Income inequality in the list of global inequalities. And it’s likely that they are closely linked. The gap between rich and poor has grown substantially over the last century, and it’s telling to investigate the values and design of time (DoT) present at the extreme end of the spectrum.
To demonstrate the importance of leisure, we can take an extreme example of those who have the most leisure – those who have ‘financial freedom’ also enjoy leisure-time, and an ability to choose how they spend it. Take for example, Billionaires, who arguably have the highest standard of living, due to means, security, access to resources, and networked support (relationships). As a group, they are reported to have better mental-health, better fitness 8), better relationships, better marriages, 9 and higher productivity 10. They spend far more time doing philanthropic activities. These are outcome traits that result from financial freedom. But Billionaires are not a separate privileged species. They didn’t get better genes, or ‘better’ anything. But every day they do have the choice to determine how they spend their time.
What do the majority of Billionaires (or ‘ultra high net worth individuals’) value the most?: Time. What do the majority of Non-Millionaires value the most?: Time, but also Money. Those who have money value time, and those who cannot choose strive for money as the means to having that choice 11 (extrinsic motivations). Financial capital provides freedom from the human use of humans, and a narrative that your life is only as valuable as how productive it is as a contributor to society 12.
In recent years, the finitude of life, coupled with improvements in technology, has widely provoked the need for a reassessment of the traditional, industrialist Capitalism narrative. Social experiments around the world are currently investigating the 4 Day working week, 13 and Universal Basic Income 14. Critiques of these approaches tend to leverage a fear of lowered individual productivity, and yet Billionaires (our exemplar group, who have an abundance of income) seem not to have reduced productivity, but actually increased it (according to the study by Rich Habits). It’s the type of productivity they have that has changed: the meaning, the intention, the direction.
Let’s make this situation clearer by thinking about it more personally. Let’s use a ‘Magic If’ question: ‘imagine you woke up this morning, checked your bank balance, and it turns out you’re a billionaire. What will you do with your life?’ Evidence from before and after effects from being a self-made millionaire suggests you’d still choose to do something useful with your life – only with a choice, you would opt to contribute your efforts and time differently. (Ignoring of course the ‘abundance mindset’, wealth-not-rich concept)
With the impact of the Pandemic since 2020, and global lockdowns, people have had the time to reassess the status-quo as it was pre-pandemic. In the UK, for example, the ONS discovered that patterns of behaviour changed – in other words: people spent their time differently. An off-shoot of that is the rise of the ‘Time Millionaire’. And the future of work is predicted to have been changed indefinitely. Although not many people can agree what it might look like. And after all, some workers are quietly quitting their jobs (Aug 2022).
The cost to the human species of Leisure inequality is massive. Just think about it. How many perspectives, and world-views, have been denied a voice to even contribute? How many generations of ‘Einsteins’ have spent their lifetime’s stunted in contributing to human progress because they had to walk every day for food, or water? Because they needed to work 3 jobs at a time to make ends-meet? With the ability to satisfy physiological and security needs, there’s liberation to satisfy different needs. The majority of human struggle and strife is derived from satisfying these requirements. Because your body is alive, these fundamental needs must be met. That’s the basis for Maslow’s hierarchy and Adam Smith’s self-interest, as Socrates (via Plato) observed, we are tethered to the needs of our body, like an oyster in a shell (Phaedrus, 250).
But maybe the future is already here, it’s just not well-distributed, and perhaps we should look at the life-styles of millionaires, and question what would happen to Society if that life-style were better distributed? For example, imagine if more people had more time to devote to philanthropy.
The world we’ve designed
With more investment in UX and Design than ever, our societies should be getting better, right? The reality is that businesses have become more efficient, and in some ways more effective, but arguably they have not genuinely focussed on user outcomes over the long-term. How people spend their lifetime is ultimately what’s at stake.
But the world is designed the same way British villages and towns are designed. Over time, with many builders, over many generations, creating things that work in isolation but often don’t work together overall. Designers, specifically, are working within a commercial entity, often driven primarily by its own profit and incentive to survive than by the good it creates for society at large.
But HCD was designed to help shape better outcomes for people? Between 2020-2022, this moral dilemma prompted numerous well-known and vocal UX experts to speak out about the larger social consequences of our work. Plenty of great books have covered this fact, and an important one from the field is Ruined by Design (Monteiro, 2019). They discuss the commercial utility of UX being exploited in order for companies to get commercial advantage, which in some cases, is ultimately disrespectful (Dagan, Dec 2019).
Hall (Nov 2020), Hurst (Jan 2021), Berkun (Feb 2021), Leech (Feb 2021), Merholz (2021), Keith (Apr 2021), Merhvarz (Jan 2022), Rochon (2021), Garrett (2021), et al. have all contributed to this narrative, which was informally referred to as ‘The Crisis in UX’. Collectively, they refer to the observation that the role of UX in business has changed. For example, it has less influence, its voice isn’t heard. It’s more likely that the context has changed, wherein commercial businesses have enlarged their sphere of influence, and we see conflicts between the needs of society and the need to do business. UX is often where Social Corporate Responsibility and Commercial Viability find their conflict.
The human species has designed its own world, and our experience of life is a direct result of all those decisions. If Design is decision-making, then Design really has ruined the world. The challenge is that the teams that mediate have a big delay between conducting its work and assessing the results. And few are formally tracking the results at a societal level 15.
To that end, we’ve built a whole world around tasks, even down to micro-tasks. So much so, there’s actually a word for it: ‘Shadow work’. The late political and social Philosopher Ivan Illich wrote an entire book on the subject 16, which was also expanded more recently by Craig Lambert in his book (2015) with the same name. Shadow work, as Lambert described “includes all of the unpaid tasks we do on behalf of businesses and organisations”. The work still gets done, only the tasks shift from those who are paid by the business to those who are not. As Illich once wrote, true freedom is the ability to opt-out, or at least choose when and how to be productive. We’re back to the concept of choice, and the meaning of Leisure.
Compare two imaginary solutions to a problem you face, on the basis of the effort involved to reach the outcome: Both solutions are exactly the same, but 1 requires you to invest effort (albeit mental, or physical – both cost time). Which would you prefer to use? As a consumer, and for example, given the option, I’m not actually invested in the task of finding the best Car Insurance (as the famous talk by Mr Joe highlighted). I’m sure there are some people who are, and I’m sure there are some jobs that I am invested in that other folks might find totally mind-numbing.
All inventions since the start of time have been to do what Smith declared: from the quill to the ball-point pen, candles to lightbulbs, horse-and-cart to automobiles, books to the internet, walking to aeroplanes, in-person to remote meetings, all of them attempted to incrementally replace the human use of humans (a ‘jobs-to-be-done distraction’), with a re-shaping of our material environment. And AI, robotics etc represent a potentially real wholesale, pan-sector opportunity to do that.
Jobs-to-be-Done (JTBD) – a paradigm
Now let’s zoom in to the factories where this modern world has been manufactured. One of the approaches that some product teams use is the concept of ‘Jobs-to-be-done’ (JTBD). The advocates and founders of it regularly cite its stability and efficacy via the number of businesses which have been successful because of such a theory 17. I shall use this framework as a proxy for numerous approaches that use tasks as their currency.
Jobs Theory is fundamentally about understanding gaps in the customer’s life. The status quo (now), and the status terminus (end goal) represent a chasm to be crossed. It’s filled with activity, which requires time and effort. A ‘job’ is the notion of a role and set of actions required to reduce that gap. JTBD is about understanding the territory of what is now, and exploring the horizon that is next. What is now is the customer’s current state. What is next is the customer’s imagined or desired state.
It is fair to say that UX professionals are truly attentive to tasks. This history of HCI and other related fields, influenced by Perceptual Control Theory (PCT), and Hierarchical Task Analysis (HTA) and other theories, have provided a narrative around understanding the task, and making it more efficient. What’s the job, and much of this mindset has contributed to making JTBD more efficient, when ultimately the aim is actually to eliminate it all together.
Now zoom out again, what we tend to do is design within boundaries and abstracted, isolated needs. Our lens, as designers and researchers, is already biassed by the lens of the company we’re employed by. Our research, ideation, value creation are all determined by the value the company purports to deliver for customers. Our customer needs to do X, but we tend not to design in the context of the customer having done Y elsewhere. The task of those who work on behalf of customers is to be an anthropologist. Studying a culture, immersing in a culture, whilst being a vehicle or bridge to describe it to their own native culture.
The first-principle of any UX process is what’s right, and what’s best for another person. Truly Human-centred Design. Not the individual business’ business-centred design. What we are talking about is the difference between whole-human experience, and whole human-experience.
The challenges with using JTBD
Jobs-to-be-done is great for businesses attempting to discover unmet needs, and adopting different strategies (Ulwick defines 4 of them in his work) for how to serve them. In Ulwick’s JTBD, there is then the deployment of a set of statements: Job statements (sometimes called ‘Job stories’), Outcome statements, and Opportunity statements. This defines a business direction and a territory to deploy services and products in. When it comes to delivering them, however, UX does not always have alignment as a knowledge space. So UX professionals often come into some misalignment with JTBD, because the domain knowledge of UX is misaligned with the concept of JTBD.
When UX professionals do apply JTBD, I’ve observed 6 primary and most common mis-steps of applying JTBD:
- Proving the customer values the job is central to the theory. As an output from understanding that value, there’s also an assumption the user/customer wants to ‘do’ the job (the verb is the crucial qualifier in a Job statement).
- The scope and scale of a functional job-outcome is enough, and the only thing worthy of attention (functional needs are most important) – The Labyrinth analogy (i.e. ignoring the ‘consumption chain’ job)
- A solution-fixation because of company competency (identity, skills, capabilities, or team identity for value-creation (product or service)
- Little to no focus on the lifetime-level outcome(s) – The Romeo & Juliet Analogy
- The conflict of interest problem: presence of the commercial incentive not to help a customer reach their ultimate goal – i.e. to keep labour and activity in perpetuity.
- Why is a job actually valued?
Just because I have to do a job, doesn’t mean I’d choose to do it if I didn’t have to. Focus on ‘Jobs’ puts an undue assumption on the fact that people actually WANT to do the tasks. As Monteiro commented, referencing a confusing and laborious service he tried to use: “For the most part, no one wants to be doing these things. They’re not exciting. They’re tolls for existence. We want to get through them as quickly as possible so we can get back to the stuff we actually want to do” (via Downe, pp.8). So in effect, we can see 2 types of jobs: Identity-defining Jobs (or what I tend to call ‘Joyful Jobs’) and Identity-distracting Jobs.
This fact has never been ignored by folks from the field of UX, who criticise JTBD as “…just over-simplified task analysis re-invented by business professors” (Spool, 2018). Ouch. To an extent, Spool is correct in this criticism, but to say that it’s oversimplified might be to undervalue the ability to make an idea truly accessible and adaptable. To provide a pragmatic set of tools which are understood and get results is a mark of sophistication, after all. Moreover, the principle of JTBD is as a rallying cry to mobilise a group of people (a ‘company’) to come to the aid of a market in need. In theory, the highest severity and most lucrative needs are the ones the company is focussed to (re)solve.
But when it comes to applying JTBD in UX, not many UX folks (such as Jared Spool, NNg) have fully adopted the idea of JTBD, preferring to use Design/HCI equivalents (HTA, and Goal-directed Personas). If JTBD targets the right place on the territory, in the market, to deploy business/team competency, then JTBG is a catalyst to help them to dissolve it.
The mechanistic and functional focus of a specific job-outcome is enough to be successful. The common pattern in JTBD is to understand the immediate task the customer is looking to do. Ulwick asserts that there should always be a focus upon functional outcomes, rather than emotional outcomes, or motivations. This is at odds with the approach provided by Kalbach (who claim emotional and social jobs may be layered onto the functional job). Klements expresses that different ‘types’ of jobs do not exist.
To explain what I mean better, I use The Labyrinth Analogy. Imagine a labyrinth (constraints of movement, directed towards known goals but without knowledge of how to reach them), and every step is blocked by rocks/boulders. The purpose of JTBD is to focus on the boulder, and to remove it, rather than lifting the person from their current position to reach their goal.
The outcome of repeatedly removing the next boulder from the customers path in this way is that we cease to focus on the ultimate motivation for a) being on the path in the first place, b) moving in that direction, c) how far from the outcome is the customer. In this way, Ulwick leverages the concept of Kauffman’s ‘adjacent possible’ theory.
Mechanistic approaches are embedded in the practice of UX. There’s an abundance of techniques, methods and processes used to understand unmet needs. As Spool mentioned “we’ve seen work in Indi Young’s Mental Models, Jeff Patton’s Story Mapping, Dan Brown’s work on discovery, Gerry McGovern’s Top Tasks 18, and tools like Jeff Gothelf’s Lean UX and Jake Knapp’s Design Sprints. All of these practices are about surfacing and focusing on unmet needs of customers.” But with the Labyrinth Analogy, we have reason to question whether the scope of the unmet need is the most common cause of ineffective solutions.
Perhaps it is an outcome of the fact that, of the 108 methods 19 most commonly referenced in HTA, only 4 are explicit about the ultimate aim of the human being the important outcome. A staple of HTA, GOMS 20)(Goals, Operators, Methods and Selection), or McCall’s Procedural Hierarchy of Issues (PHI) 21, QOC Questions, Options, Criteria, etc are approaches that target the immediate mechanistic context, likely because of the contextual origin of these approaches in HCI. This suggests that the proposition outlined in JTBG provides a different emphasis to both JTBD and HTA.
The true value of JTBD
In fact, this has quite often been observed by UX experts. When Alan Cooper termed his approach as ‘Goal-directed Design’, he explicitly aligned his approach with user outcomes. He also observed the core problem with JTBD, commenting via Twitter, “Helping users do their jobs seems OK, except they don’t want to “do jobs.” They want outcomes, inextricably linked to why they want them.” The ‘why’ part, of course, being the most crucial. Again, the Labyrinth Analogy is helpful to explain – the long-term goal, not the short-term obstacle is most important to human well-being.
As I mentioned above, professionals in UX are familiar with JTBD, but tend not to be convinced. As Spool jokingly maligned, and took the comical perspective of the optimist (leveraging a classic Regan joke), “I believe there’s something to JTBD…I’m sure there’s a pony in there somewhere (to quote Ronald Reagan), but it’s often too hard to see under all the shit.” – so here I shall attempt to prove JTBG is the UX answer to making JTBD work.
One of the core aspects JTBD gets right is that it attempts to objectify the problem space. It ignores solutions entirely, and just seeks the job that the person is attempting to do. As Christensen said “Jobs themselves are enduring and persistent, but the way we solve them can change dramatically over time.” (2016, pp. 34). The stability of the definitions is one of the most valuable pieces, and also perhaps a reason why Ulwick seeks not to taint the objectivity of it by overlaying more than the mechanistic view. Ulwick expects the focus to be purely on the functional task. This allows for a task to be isolated, and ensures it can be targeted as the impetus for solutions as separated from any and all specific solutions. It helps to provide a ‘separation of concerns’, between problem space and knowledge/solution space, and therefore more clearly find a problem-solution fit.
What it doesn’t have are a number of features missing from both HTA and JTBD:
A stable, perennial model of Human Goals, the method of Levels is often at the lower level of the scope, addressing an immediate functional goal in the local environment. How a specific goal ladders up to life-goals isn’t part of the question – which constrains the approach to helping in a scenario, but not helping the individual to achieve their real goals. Sometimes I have joked that JTBG is actually Goals-to-be-Got (GTBG). Self-Determination Theory (SDT) can help us here.
Job laddering: How any particular JTBD ladders up to solve a problem greater and more meaningful than the original context. A philosophy about the broader context, in terms of human life. Ultimately, the scope of the task itself is the primary challenge unsolved by JTBD. It captures a narrow functional constraint, and attempts to overcome it by understanding the ‘Job’. Customers will take a few things about what they know, and synthesise around how those things might solve the current situation.
The problem is: the data used is hardly ever comprehensive or objective, prone to fixation or blindspots; and also often unable to objectively step beyond the immediate context. (Lack of Objectivity effect). So JTBD cannot look beyond the immediate functional context even though the answer might extend beyond, or come from outside of, the immediate context. Even if practitioners are able to.
Neither is there a requirement to look beyond the chain of immediate problems to solve more than one challenge. JTBD solves the immediate task and is done. JTBG solves for the desired state, treating the person as a Goal-directed Agent (GDA), or a Self-determining System. Great UX invents systems that eliminate future effort, but JTBD solves for the immediate task.
Let’s take a look at how a new perspective changes the meaning of innovation.
Jobs-to-be-Gone – The Goal-directed Agent (GDA)
Jobs to be Gone is, like JTBD, part orientation, part interpretive framework, part lens. Such a description echoes the concept as defined by Ulwick for JTBD, but it shifts the view to something closer to the origin of Hierarchical Task Analysis (also observed by Klement, 202-203);
Despite sounding like it’s derived from Jobs-to-be-done, it’s actually not truly derived from it at all. The name is just a useful leaping off point from something already generally understood. It’s not to say that Jobs-To-Be-Gone is not a prevalent mindset between experts in UX either, but it’s difficult to anchor on the idea. The fact that an anchor-term is needed also seems to suggest that it’s not that prevalent 22.
But let’s return to the hierarchy of outcomes, and look again at Cooper’s approach. Alan Cooper is the originator of ‘Goal-directed Design’, and defined different types of goals (user, customer, business, technical, pp.94-95), and stated that ‘successful products meet user goals first’ (pp.96). Any user has 3 types of goals:
- Experience goals (how it feels, Norman’s visceral processing),
- End goals (the outcome state, Norman’s behavioural processing), and
- Life goals (the ultimate aim of the user, Norman’s reflective processing).
In theory, each one is capable of laddering up to the next, such that activity contributes to Life goals. But this isn’t always the case. These are all equivalent to concepts found in Self-determination Theory (SDT), specifically Basic Human Needs Theory (BHNT) and Goals Content Theory (GCT) 23.
I speculate that we’ve built a world that’s designed to meet the needs of the first type, experience goals, sensory and hedonistic experiences, rather than to focus on helping people achieve their life goals. My sense is that it’s easier to remove the boulders from someone’s immediate path with immediate goals, rather than even solve for the ‘whole job’, which is actually derived from desired Life-states. Or even to aggregate shared life-goals as a means of designing society itself. If we were to ask customers whether the digital products they use helped them to achieve their life goals, my hypothesis is that we have not.
Current JTBD approaches determine this task or that task. It might be said that it’s task fixation rather than State fixation which is the real problem here. A given state is only ever a product of the learnings which contributed to it, at a given time or place. In other words, a product (of any form), is only ever a transient state, the product of a learning organisation. Technology is changing, progressing, enhancing, increasing capacity all the time. And as customers become familiar with, aware of, engaged with, their expectations are changing. And as cultural implications take place because of technology, then we also are ever changing. Our accommodation and habituation to the given technology is a cultural Baldwin effect.
A Goal-state hierarchy
States themselves are hierarchical, and their full mapping has always been referenced but rarely well defined. In the original work provided by Powers, he referenced ‘Be’ and ‘Goal’ states, but didn’t expand beyond providing them as the backdrop for a specific task. Self-Determination Theory expands on this with Goal Content Theory.
Consider some of the scope of that hierarchy:
- Be Me
- Be Healthy
- Be Protected
- Be Connected – transport, travel (distance is the constraint), social media,
- Be important
- Be stimulated – entertainment industry (music, content, adult, and perhaps travel)
Unpicking ‘be states’ is complicated, and could potentially lead to a number of confusing, contradictory, and even unclear tasks. Because of this, the most important anchor is the 3 Finitudinal States, since they represent the absolute constraints of human life.
Most common and most circumstantial ‘Be states’. Some ‘Be’ states are actually seen as providing access and effectiveness in other States. ‘Be Powerful’ could be considered as a proxy for ‘Be Rich’, ‘Be Famous’, ‘Be influential’, etc. if someone values security and convenience over connection, then they might strive to ‘Be Rich’ state. If they value social status and recognition over privacy and status, then they might value a ‘be famous’ state. The functional benefits of ‘being rich’, or ‘being famous’, or ‘being powerful’ is a state of absolute certainty, choice, and control over one’s own life and time.
There remains a question that, if States are the thing we are actually able to Design for, and encourage, then a State of what? A Physical State, a Mental State, an Emotional State? In terms of the Entity, then we must design the most important thing: Identity.
The disruptive effect of Jobs to be Gone means that we seek to eradicate the job-to-be-done at all. And at a broader scale, it attempts to recalibrate the difference in the ratio between Identity-defining Jobs and Identity-distracting jobs. A person in an underdeveloped country, who must walk all day for water, has a limited opportunity to conduct the real work of Identity-definition. A person who is a Billionaire spends the majority of their time doing what they choose. There is limited existential pressure on them to take part in Identity-distracting jobs. This doesn’t, of course, means that people in emerging or under-developed countries lack identity. But they lack the opportunity for leisure which is what provides the option for Identity Capital.
Disruptive solutions use JTBG Thinking
If the ultimate function of our work is to provide humanity more opportunity and more time, then the immediate recognisable effect is that menial, mechanical, identity-distracting roles are eliminated.
Earlier I mentioned that JTBG inspired products are recognisable as ‘Disruptive Innovation’. That the result doesn’t just make existing solutions look bad, it makes them irrelevant. Now let’s test that idea with a thought-experiment to see whether it’s true. Based upon the vector of progress, it’s arguable that all inventions are products of Jobs to be Gone. Increments towards eliminating the task altogether. Some products that update and improve efficiencies in the Job, leverage JTBD thinking. But products that eliminate the Job itself are absolutely effective, and therefore most disruptive.
A home is more than a place to live, it’s a place of the most frequent, most ingrained behaviour patterns. A home requires maintenance, produces waste, and intakes energy. One of the primary behaviour patterns is cleaning, which we touched on earlier. Let’s use that example to observe the JTBG next step:
The task of washing one’s clothes for example, demonstrates this type of increment. Victorian wash-boards, wringing and mangling machines, invented around 1850 became popular in the UK in the early 20th Century. The task was to ensure the hygiene of one’s clothes. The state required is ‘to always have clean clothes’, but the task demanded various stages of soaking, scrubbing, wringing, mangling, hanging, and drying (what Ulwick refers to as ‘Consumption chain jobs’) 24. Fast forward to the invention of the modern washing machine, in around 1937, the task list that had been focussed on was reducing the manual effort around soaking, scrubbing and rinsing. All the other surrounding jobs remain.
A 2018 survey in the UK found that 31.47% of the British public spends 10 hours a week cleaning, and 1 in 10 spend between 11-15 hours a week doing household chores 25. This is a total of 5 years of your life spent just tidying. Scale this out – every person on the planet is expected to devote at least 5 years of their lives to cleaning and tidying their immediate environment. The current population of the planet (7.96 billion people), with average lifespan is 72.98 years, each doing 5 years of their lives 26.
Everything we create creates a ‘toll of existence’, so every product we create should alleviate the primary pain-point everyone has: Control of Time. Use of Time is the ultimate zero-sum game, where Opportunity Costs are at their highest. What could those people do with the 5 years of their life they spent cleaning? Time-autonomy (Leisure) is one of the biggest and most valuable things on the planet. And yet the majority of the planet do not have any control over how they spend their time. Developed countries have by far the most leisure time than all other categories combined. Now calculate how much time you spend doing things that you don’t find fulfilling 27.
Now imagine a ‘Self-cleaning home’. Imagine a set of devices in the home that reduces the effort you have to go about cleaning, tidying. What if the house itself knew its default state from a set of close-network cameras, and a team of small devices came out on a timer every night to replace the room back to the default state. The purpose of the system is to maintain the house in a ‘healthy state’ for its inhabitants. Which is why when Panasonic announced a washing machine that dries and folds too (2017), it was covered by the media. Foldimate (via TechCrunch, 2018) invented a robot to remove the drying and folding tasks too. And most recently, Samsung’s own robot (2021). These technologies clearly do not remove the job, but they are increments toward it.
This type of negative feedback system is the same principle behind a thermostat, using a TOTE approach to the problem. Test current state, apply an Operation to correct, Test again, if not at Target state, then apply operation, else End process. In this instance, target state must be well-understood by the system, one that holds lots of variables. Imagine taking a digital image of the tidy room – the last time you’ll ever tidy or clean the house. The system scans the room to set Target State. During the day, the family can undergo its own natural activities. Then overnight, a set of drones return the room back to the target state. Using AI computer vision, we have the ability for a Home System to understand the target state. We don’t yet have a suit of robots to execute the task.
But this was intended to be a rudimentary example. The scope of the Target State is also very small. What if we set the target state as an outcome for the economy? For the education of our children? For the healthcare of our loved ones? The target state is what we’re interested in. The means to get there, to overcome the existential gap, the Is-Chasm, requires resources, effort, investment and sometimes substantial maintenance over the long-term.
It’s easy to recognise disruptive inventions, when we see them for what they are – technology that doesn’t just make existing solutions irrelevant, but eliminates the Job itself. Or as Buckminster Fuller once said, “In order to change an existing paradigm you do not struggle to try and change the problematic model. You create a new model and make the old one obsolete.” This idea is even baked into the concept of ‘Disruptive Innovation’.
Does it sound ‘disruptive’? The technology notwithstanding, the concept of eliminating the task is what feels ‘disruptive’, not specifically the technology used. We’re indifferent to the technology, but we’re not indifferent to eliminating the task.
To test this concept, I have used a method called ‘Progressive re-allocation’ 28 – to remove all vectors of control from the user, and experiment on which aspects of control are the most valuable because they are absent. The experiment must be made as accurate to the context being studied as is possible. Abstracting the experiment out of the context, or synthesising it in any way will only confirm that the missing features aren’t needed.
By outcomes, most people think the stuff that persists, or the stuff we’re left with. In reality an outcome is just the result that comes from a process. It’s actually the new ‘State’. With JTBD, we make the status-quo more efficient, with JTBG we seek to reset the status-quo.
Actions, and behaviour, might therefore be considered the negative feedback actions which address the material difference between current circumstances and desired circumstances. Behaviour doesn’t exist in a vacuum, but rather in relation to a context state. Let’s call it the ‘Goal state’ (GS). Test/Acceptance Criteria is crucial to measure. Using a TOTE method, we might say that all design is actually a regulating system. Using States rather than Tasks, we have something we can test against in the same way a Thermostat maintains a temperature. But more on this in a later article.
Steve Jobs 1997 “You’ve got to start with the experience and work back towards the technology”, something that was also described by Levitt in 1960 (via .,,, pp.223). Wherein ‘experience’ is a general catch-all for anything related to the human being (perception, action, emotion, locomotion et al). Digging deeper to improve the accuracy here, what we can discover is that someone’s experience is dictated by their emotional, mental, physical, social, and financial state. To rephrase Jobs’ statement, we might say we must start with the goal, pulling the technology towards capably and effectively reaching the goal.
- Fixed and variable goals
- Fixed and variable behaviours
Effective teams use JTBG Thinking
We can also discover JTBG Thinking in the operation of great teams. JTBG is exactly how great businesses function. Highly effective teams, as Elon Musk famously observed, eliminate the work that shouldn’t exist. And this is exactly what the best teams do, they invent a system that eliminates future effort. Google’s software engineers codify the solution, so it becomes trivial to solve it again in the future, so the team can expand the scope, scale and complexity of the problems it solves. They’re built layer upon layer of enablement. If you have to solve a problem frequently, then it’s most effective to build a System to solve it for you. Use the time you have to eradicate the need to solve it again. Many great software teams do this. That’s how individuals and teams force multiply. What’s ironic is that many businesses operate like this, but often don’t innovate for the customer in the same way.
The self-disruption incentive
Jeff Bezo once claimed that customers are ‘divinely discontent’ (1997). Because of this Bezos was originally planning to call Amazon ‘Relentless.com’, because he sought to ensure inventing on behalf of the customer was always internally motivated. The new religion of Capitalism dictated not to be God-fearing, but to be Customer-fearing. A business’ existence depends on customers, and customers have the choice, and reserve the right, to walk away at any moment.
Inventing with a JTBG mindset means a company stays ahead of competition by improving their customer’s lives before disruptive players join the game. JTBG businesses recognise that their solution has a limited window of being valuable, and it’s key to ensure the model for the entire business is to Invent, and then simplify. The ultimate aim being to design the state where the Job is gone. Jakob’s Law is an observation that “Users spend most of their time on other sites. This means that users prefer your site to work the same way as all the other sites they already know”. This is a rule about operant conditioning. This provides useful guidance on why to focus on JTBG.
As I wrote in 2019 (CX Magazine, Great Expectations), the expectation for customers is always the baseline, but performing better than the expectation is the ‘delight space’. Sometimes, the task of UX is to engage in Delight Engineering. But every delightful experience sets the new baseline, meaning that companies must always seek to surpass the expectation of the current baseline. And customers are exposed to a wide variety of baseline defining experiences, which cause all other companies to adopt the new baseline. It’s an evolutionary and experiential arms-race.
JTBD/G – as complementary approaches
JTBD is a bottom-up approach, and JTBG is a top-down approach. Neither is accurate without feedback from each perspective. JTBD is a valuable approach to HTA, but it suffers from missing context. JTBG acts as the bar-raising, or at least, level-setting mechanism.
The best way to understand how JTBG compliments JTBD is with the ‘Jobs-as-Progress’ interpretation (Christensen, pp.30; Klement, ), rather than the ‘Jobs-as-Activities’ interpretation (Ulwick et al)29. Both take a perspective on whether there are mechanistic or emotional bases for activity 30. Neither takes an Identity Capital view. Klement’s argument (as captured in his ‘When Coffee and Kale Compete’) doesn’t seem to include the important definition of progress towards ‘What’ or ‘Why’. The definition of ‘Jobs-as-progress’ makes a big difference in the efficacy of the solution, such that there’s progress in 1 step, or 500 steps. In which case, the concept of Jobs-as-Progress could also be extended to be ‘Jobs-as-progress-for-progress-sake’.
This having been said, the consideration of Jobs-as-Progress, supports the view that Progression through States is the most primary function of our work. Jobs-as-Progress takes a Constructivist and Instrumentalist perspective, believing that an individual’s activity is ‘building’ their new State. There is also another view, looking back from the Target State (TS) toward the Current State (CS). That view is called ‘Working Backwards’.
Working Backwards has historically had its own challenges, since the ‘Thing’ to be determined isn’t explicitly an Identity State, but rather a Product State. From a State in the narrow sense, an hypothetical future moment in time. A commitment to devote resources to meet that imagined moment. The state is defined by a thing, but the true WBP from a desired Customer State. A good Working Backwards process is solution agnostic, the outcome exists in the state of the Human, and the impact of the Target State on their life. Distance between States, and the value reported by the Person, are the most important metrics.
Can you see how simply reframing Jobs-to-be-Done into Jobs-to-be-Gone, we actively align ourselves with the underlying pattern of all innovation since the Dawn of time? It’s always been about the removal of effort, by degrees.
Humans are incredibly good at manipulating the material world around them, but it’s not random manipulation, it’s completely intentional. The subtext is that anything that a human can imagine, and can imagine + desire, will cause him frustration and suffering. The manipulation of the material world is what we call ‘Technology’. Our entire civilisation has been progressed by technology, a reconfiguring of materials into structures that provide benefit and alignment to our inner desires.
The additional aspect of JTBG is that it focuses on cross-generational issues. A JTBD will focus on the task to be done now, in the current context. The JTBG will focus on the outcome someone seeks with as little effort, input or time as possible, but with requisite control. Requisite Control is a crucial concept to shape how Function Allocation is performed. Does a customer actually want to fill in the 30 page, 300 question form you invented in order to personalise their experience with your app. Of course not, but they may recognise that the personalisation payoff over the long term is worth the pain now.
We looked at someone’s life across tasks, and didn’t focus on the invention (the washing machine), and asked ‘how might we make a better washing machine?’, but asked, ‘how might we ensure no-one has to do the washing?’. This is a simple, but significant shift.
What if the role of a UX team was eradicating tasks the way virologists eradicate viruses? Again, great UX invents systems that eliminate future effort. So imagine what the world would be like if goals were already got, and jobs were already done.
Finally, we discover the purpose of prior planning to remove effort and to create a world of better people. This is what I call ‘Well-being Design’ (WBD), or ‘Well-being driven Design’. When we prioritise well-being within the framework of design decisions, then we create more life-affirming outcomes. But more on this in a future article.
In a future article, I shall dive deeper, and share a JTBG Toolkit, inclusive of blueprints and templates to move from the Theory to the Practice of JTBG. This will include the User Research mechanisms, as well as Design processes that provide focus to sustaining JTBG throughout the product development life-cycle. Many of the processes of Double-diamond remain in place and the same as standard, but the Content of them is different.
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- “Livet skal forstaas baglaens, men leves forlaens.” Søren Kierkegaard, Journalen JJ:167 (1843), Søren Kierkegaards Skrifter, Søren Kierkegaard Research Center, Copenhagen, 1997–, volume 18, page 306. (Full quote)
- There are 2 classes of ‘Job’: 1) the effort necessary to work towards a particular outcome, 2) the activity of someone who has an employer, and therefore engaged in ‘employment’. It is the former definition that we shall focus on here. ‘Conservation of Work’ is what I call the ‘Jobs’ equivalent to ‘Conservation of Energy’, no energy is destroyed, only changed or redistributed. In the same way, no effort is ever destroyed, but moved, changed or redistributed. Capitalism is a form of removing effort from a target market, and placing it as the central concern of another group of people, employed and united in a ‘Company’.
- Such a situation prompted Jeff Bezos, for example, to create ‘mechanisms’, or Standards of Practice instead of relying on good intentions.
- Einstein also commented about the importance of realising how much we owe to the work of others. “A hundred times every day I remind myself that my inner and outer life depend on the labours of other men, living and dead, and that I must exert myself in order to give in the same measure as I have received and am still receiving.” The world as I see it, pp.5.
- Klement (2018, pp.84) described the challenges associated with adding more kids to a food-shopping trip which is pretty accurate. Klement refers to this need as “External pushes”.
- “I think I have as many jobs of not wanting to do something as ones that I want positively to do. I call them “negative jobs.” In my experience, negative jobs are often the best innovation opportunities.” (Christensen 2016, pp.62
- “The happiness we receive from ourselves is greater than that which we obtain from our surroundings” (Schopenhauer pp.4
- 76% exercise four days a week. (Capital Investment Advisors, June 2021
- Significantly, financial pressures are one of the biggest reported causes for relationship breakdown, and deterioration of mental-health. In contrast, 86% of millionaires are married. 65% are still on their first marriage (US Trust’s “Insights on Wealth and Worth)
- 86% of the wealthy who work full-time put in 50 hours or more each week at their jobs (Tom Corley, Rich Habits)
- The narrative involves a higher value placed on career success than leisure time, since “they don’t rate free time as highly as job success” (Pew Research Centre, Who wants to be rich? 2008).
- As a thought-experiment: Contrast 3 archetypes in different contexts: a person in an under-developed country, a person in a developed country, and a HNWI who lives in a developed country. There’s a very large difference in living standards between developed and so-called ‘developing’ countries. What are the behaviour patterns that are the same, and which are very different? Which are most constrained by ‘time/leisure poverty’?
- https://www.euronews.com/next/2022/06/06/the-four-day-week-which-countries-have-embraced-it-and-how-s-it-going-so-far (June 2022)
- 25 studies were recorded worldwide by Vox (2020), the majority demonstrating improved social benefits
- Although the Center for Humane Technology, and their The Harms Ledger; The Dark Patterns Project, the codification of a UX Manifesto (Feb 2017), and the implementation of Laws which outlaw Dark Patterns (EU, Digital Services Act 2022) in business are beginning to make a start.
- There’s also a shorter essay, by Ivan Illich (1980); Shadow Work, in Philosophica, 26 1980 (2), pp. 7-46.
- Ulwick, for example, references its successes since the 1990’s. IBM, Cordis Corporation, Motorola, etc. (2016, pp.195-199)
- Top tasks, including Super tasks, Task Performance Indicators (TPI) to maximise success, minimise time/effort
- 108, made up of 6x Task analysis techniques, 8x Cognitive task analysis, 6x Process charting methods, 18x Human error and accident assessment techniques, 7x situational awareness techniques, 15x mental workload assessment, 17x team assessment methods, 16x interface analysis methods, 12x design methods, 3x performance time prediction. (2013); A Practical Guide for Engineering and Design
- GOMS model (Card, Moran & Newell, 1983
- pp183, Alan Dix
- I’ve reviewed a number of courses and bootcamps from a number of training providers. Very few reference the concept of ‘task allocation’ explicitly. ISO 9241-210:2019 for Human-centred Design defines how ‘4.6. The design addresses the whole user experience’, and yet the entirety of the work a design team will develop in a business context. The Designers are employed by a specific business, to develop solutions within the context of the business or industry. This means that staff are insulated from seeing the world as it really is, but rather from whatever perspective is prevalent within the business. The challenge, as Steve Blank refers, is to Get-Out-Of-the-Building (GOOB). After all, your business is not the only one influencing the customer’s experience (if it even is at all).
- Inclusive of other approaches to understanding motivation too, such as the dichotomies between other factors proposed by other scholars, such as power vs intimacy motivation (Emmons, 1991), spiritual vs material goal content (Emmons, 1999), self-centered vs other-centered goal contents (Salmela-Aro, Pennanen, & Nurmi, 2001), and agency vs communion goal contents (Pohlman, 2001).
- Ulwick 2016, pp. 185 “The jobs that the product lifecycle support team must get done throughout the product lifecycle. These jobs include installation, set up, and storing, transporting, maintaining, repairing, cleaning, upgrading, and disposing of the product.”
- Statistics also provided by The Bureau of Labor Statistics (USA, 2021) demonstrate a similar figure, inclusive of task breakdown. Statista.com also provide a breakdown by region for UK counties.
- Of course, using global averages and local 1st world cleaning/tidying data is a flawed model – but I use it to make a point rather than to prove the case. Nothing like ‘cleaning and tidying’ to be a first world problem. You have to have a home in order to have this problem.
- Arguably there’s likely a balance to be struck so that tasks remain fulfilling because you’re also exposed to tasks that are not – but that’s another discussion for another day.
- https://www.usabilitybok.org/function-allocation “Function allocation (also known as task allocation) is a classic human factors method for deciding whether a particular function will be accomplished by a person, technology (hardware or software) or some mix of person and technology. To do this, the investigator considers error rates, fatigue, costs, hazards, technological feasibility, human values, ethical issues, and the desire of people to perform the function.”
- Differences of course are a source of contention amongst these authors. Christensen vs Ulwick have also disagreed on certain interpretations, but such is important for progress.
- Klement 2016, pp. 201. “two different, and incompatible, interpretations of why we buy and use products.”