A Book Review: _Competing Against Luck_ by Christensen, Hall, Dillon, and Duncan

Competing Against Luck: The Story of Innovation and Customer Choice by Clayton Christensen, Taddy Hall, Karen Dillon, and David Duncan, 2016.

Christensen and his team start with a McKinsey poll that 84% of global executives acknowledge that innovation is extremely important to their growth strategies but 94% were unsatisfied with their own innovation performance. In 2015, U.S. public companies spent $680 billion on R&D showing innovation is indeed important. Since perceived need and effort are not the problems, Christensen and team conclude innovation efforts are directed in a haphazard way and propose a “jobs to be done” theory for products. What job is a customer hiring a product to do? People want a quarter inch hole and so they go to the hardware store to buy a quarter inch drill bit. No one actually cares about drill bits. The book discusses how you figure out exactly what it is your customer needs and how to provide that for them. Why does a company ask what someone’s favorite milk shake flavor is when the most important thing to them that it fits in the car’s cup holder? Why would V-8 be marketed as a good tasting drink when people buy it to replace cooking vegetables? The book teaches how to ask the right questions when marketing products.

As an engineer, it’s heart-breaking to spend blood, sweat, and tears to get something working only to find out that no one wants it. This well-written book provides hope that misdirected development is avoidable and shows how to ask the right questions to tune what you are doing to what someone wants. Certainly, others have written books on this topic, and the authors acknowledge as much. But for those who haven’t already got a favorite on the topic, I thought this book was great and would recommend it.

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