Clayton Christensen’s Jobs-to-be-done Theory

Clayton Christensen (along with a few other co-authors) is soon releasing a book called Competing Against Luck that will go more in-depth on Christensen’s “Jobs-to-be-done theory,” which is a way to reframe product design and product selling away from fallacious, post ergo hoc propter hoc data and towards first principles.

Jobs-to-be-done (JTBD) is something Christensen cooked up at least a decade ago and the best way to grok the theory is to listen to Christensen tell the milkshake story. Take a listen below (Look past the the over-styling of the video):


Reflecting on the reasons people do the things they do rather than trying to come up with some complicated, aggregated story about certain demos doing certain things is a much more effective way to understand behavior.

In the world of marketing and advertising, I’m daily confronted with the approach that carving up people into segments is the way to understand customers. It works okay, at best, but necessarily paints with broad strokes, misses nuances left and right, and generally just feels a little half-baked. By comparison, understanding the “why” people do the things they do gets to the heart of the matter.

Even more, it often reveals hidden, underlying truths. That milkshakes make for good driving-to-work breakfast food is a surprising revelation you’d probably not guess.

Another example: we drive a Honda Odyssey as our family car. However, many of our family friends have opted to go the SUV route. Why? Big SUVs are generally inferior as a family vehicle to a mini-van in almost every way possible. The only catch is that mini-vans have large negative connotations to parents. Mini-vans aren’t “cool,” right? Parents, and I think particularly mothers, who drive mini-vans feel old and uncool driving them. They don’t want to identify with their own parents or feel like they’re not fun, anymore. SUVs somehow skirt this psychological problem*. Using JTBD, the SUV decision makes all the more sense: parents need to feel young and vibrant. Who cares if a van is more practical if it makes you feel old or tangibly represents how much your life pivots around your children? Even if it may be irrational, we tie up our identity in our vehicles, and our identity is paramount for our sense of self, and our sustained happiness.

SUVs make sense as a vehicle that satisfies the job parents need to be done — move the family around — but don’t harm my sense of self in the process!

JTBD feels like an extension of economic theories, which themselves are ways to frame and understand human behavior. I find reframing life — things I want, things my kids want, things I need to do for work, and more — using the question, “What is the job I need done here?” Is a useful exercise that can have surprising results and/or make sense of sometimes irrational-looking behaviors. JTBD reframing can be used to drive my own decisions or understand my own behavior. It’s surprising but I find I’m often making decisions for reasons that make sense but aren’t at the top level of my conscious thought.

I’m not unusual. Lots of people are doing the same thing. Human beings are complex!

Have you heard of this theory? I’d be curious if you can think of any examples of how JTBD makes sense of your life or your work. Let me know!

Aside: I don’t know how I made it this long without being aware of Clayton Christensen, Harvard business professor and author of The Innovator’s Dilemma (A book I’ve heard of but not read). Yet here I am only first hearing him speak a couple weeks ago via this Talk @ Google.

Christensen has a gentle demeanor in the way he speaks that exudes thoughtfulness, and the guy is clearly a thinker, having originated a solid handful of business theories. They are conveniently organized on his website here (That link is to Christensen’s theory of disruptive innovation but see the left column at that link for more, including the one I’m fixated on at the moment).

*I often think how absurd it is to pick an obviously inferior vehicle for the job-to-be-done of getting your young family around town like a Suburban over the swiss-army of family vehicles like an Odyssey for the purpose of appearing “cool” — you can’t be cool when your grimy rugrats fall over themselves trying to get in and out of a Suburban. SUVs don’t magically erase the real reason you feel old, which is that you have young kids!

Rethinking subsidized finance (Steve Waldman)

http://interfluidity.powe…236071874.shtml

Steve Randy Waldman continues to say what few others are saying in his latest on subsidized (Government-backed) finance.

Before I save-down my favorite part from Waldman’s analysis, I have two questions:

  1. Is there a meaningful difference between “nationalization” and “bankruptcy” in a subsidized, government-backed banking system?
  2. Are government-backed institutions destined to be nationalized?

I think the answer to the first question may be a qualified “No.” Regarding the second, I believe the answer is an unqualified “Yes” to the second.

Why is nationalization similar to bankruptcy? In a bankruptcy proceeding, the assets of the defunct company are divvied up and liquidated. I’m not sure if that would be any different under a nationalization program. Sure, if the government starts backstopping the losses of bank debt- and equity-holders, then we’ve entered some gray area that favors more crony capitalism than traditional bankruptcy. On the other hand, if nationalization means orderly liquidation by the government, then we’re really talking more about a special-case bankruptcy.

In the end, I’m guessing that it’ll be the latter even though I fully expect some investors to get off better than they should.

Regarding the second question, it seems that an institution implicitly backstopped by the government, even only marginally, is destined to be backstopped fully in time. This is because government subsidization works towards this end by effecting behavior internally to the organization and externally to investors/creditors:

  • Internally, company stewards take on more risk than they can handle as risk, via government subsidization/backstop, is underpriced.
  • Externally, investors/creditors extend more capital to the company as they believe the company is less-risky (again government is subsidizing risk).

Via this two-fold process, over time the marginal government involvement/subsidiy ratchets up until the organization takes on so much additional risk that it must call the government on its risk-option. Because the government was complicit with the arrangement all along, it must answer the call. Again, this process ratchets up over time until the once only marginally subsidized institution is full-fledged government-run.

And the above process doesn’t stop with just companies — seems to work the same on just about any welfare recipient.

Here’s Waldman:

Banking-as-we-know-it is just a form of publicly subsidized private capital formation. I have no problem with subsidizing private capital formation, even with ceding much of the upside to entrepreneurial investors while taxpayers absorb much of the downside when things go wrong. But once we acknowledge the very large public subsidy in banking, it becomes possible to acknowledge other, perhaps less disaster-prone arrangements by which a nation might encourage private capital formation at lower social and financial cost. Rather than writing free options, what if we defined a category of public/private investment funds that would offer equity financing (common or preferred) to the sort of enterprises that currently depend upon bank loans? Every dollar of private money would be matched by a dollar of public money, doubling the availability of capital to businesses (compared to laissez-faire private investment), and eliminating the misaligned incentives and agency games played between taxpayers and financiers who would, in this arrangement, be pari passu. Also, by reducing firms’ reliance on brittle debt financing, equity-focused investment funds could dramatically enhance systemic stability.

Private-sector banking has not existed in the United States since first the Fed and then the FDIC undertook to insure bank risks. There is no use getting all ideological about keeping banks private, because they never have been. We want investment decisions to be driven by economic value rather than political diktat, but at the same time capital formation has positive spillovers so we’d like it to be publicly subsidized. How best to meet those objectives is a technocratic rather than ideological question.

In thinking this through, I don’t think we should give much deference to traditional banking, on the theory that we know it works. On the contrary, we know that it does not work. Banking crises are not aberrations. They are infrequent but regular occurrences almost everywhere there are banks. I challenge readers to make the case that banking, in its long centuries, has ever been a profitable industry, net of the costs it extracts from governments, counterparties, and investors during its low frequency, high amplitude breakdowns. Banking is lucrative for bankers, and during quiescent periods it has served a useful role in financial intermediation. But in aggregate, has banking has ever been a successful industry for capital providers? A “healthy” banking system is arguably just a bubble, worth investing in only if you’re smart enough or lucky enough to get out before the crash, or if you expect to be bailed out after the fall.

If banks were our only option, we might think of them like airlines — we’ve never figured out how to run the things profitably, but we do want commercial air travel, so we find ways to cover their losses. But at least with airlines, the costs are relatively modest, and we constantly experiment in hopes of hitting on a sustainable business model. Despite being catastrophically broken, the core structure of banking has been fixed in an amber of incumbency and regulation since the Pleistocene era. It’s long past time to try something else.

We need shock and awe policies to halt depression

http://www.telegraph.co.u…depression.html

It’s not unusual to read sobering words from the Telegraph’s Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, but his latest commentary is particularly dire.

I wonder to what extent “we have been lulled into a false sense of security by the lack of ‘soup kitchens.'” As the Dow went decidedly under 7,000 today and the S&P sits at 700 — market levels we’ve not seen since I was a freshman in high school (!) — I am more numbed than shocked. It’s hard to believe that six months ago we were at DJIA 11.5K (link). For someone who expected the market to plummet for months only to see it rise or be stick-saved again and again, that it’s now at these incredibly low levels is a bit surreal — not to mention frustrating in that most of my short positions have been closed!

Finally, I wonder what will come of commodities and the dollar. Pritchard seems to believe that the U.S. is still in charge. Is that the case? If so, why has the Fed been so gun-shy about buying Treasuries and flooding dollars onto the system? Or is it similar to us not seeing scenes of rampant poverty — there is just a lag in the inflationary system?

Time will tell all.

Stephen Lewis, from Monument Securities, says we have been lulled into a false sense of security by the lack of “soup kitchens”. The visual cues from Steinbeck’s America are missing. “The temptation for investors is to see this as just another recession, over by the end of the year. But this is not a normal cycle. It is a cataclysmic structural breakdown,” he said.

Fiscal stimulus is reaching its global limits. The lowest interest rates in history are failing to gain traction. The Fed seems paralyzed. It first talked of buying US Treasuries three months ago, but cannot seem to bring itself to hit the nuclear button.

As the Fed dithers, a flood of bond issues from the US Treasury is swamping the debt market. The yield on 10-year Treasuries has climbed from 2pc to 3.04pc in eight weeks. The real cost of money is rising as deflation gathers pace.

US house prices have fallen 27pc (Case-Shiller index). The pace of descent is accelerating. The 2.2pc fall in December was the worst month ever. January looks just as bad. Delinquenc-ies on prime mortgages were 1.72pc in September, 1.89pc in October, 2.13pc on November and 2.42pc in December. This is the trajectory eating away at the banking system.

Graham Turner, from GFC Economics, fears the Dow could crash to 4,000 by summer unless there is a “quantum reduction” in mortgage rates. The Fed should swoop in to the market – armed with Ben Bernanke’s “printing press” – and mop up enough Treasuries to force 10-year yields down to 1pc and mortgage rates to 2.5pc. Monetary shock and awe.

This remedy is fraught with risk, but all options are ghastly at this point. That is the legacy we have been left by the Greenspan doctrine. We are at the moment of extreme danger in Irving Fisher’s “Debt Deflation Theory” (1933) where the ship fails to right itself by natural buoyancy, and capsizes instead.

From all accounts, the Fed was ready to launch its bond blitz in January. Something happened. Perhaps the hawks awoke in cold sweats at night, fretting about Weimar.

H/T to The Mess for the link.

How bank bonuses let us all down

http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0…0077b07658.html

More from Nassim Nicholas Taleb (See prior at tag nassim-taleb) on our current system that fosters the “free option,” which is most easily summed up as, “Heads I win, tails you lose.”

NNT has previously argued that our banking system is built to blow up, and how can you argue with the reality that banks steadily earn profits for years only to suddenly blow up, losing all past profits and more?

Why does this happen? I think there are two reasons, only one of which gets press generally. The other is at the root of Taleb’s discussion on a broken incentive structure (free options).

The widely accepted and discussed reason for our current mess is leverage — a.k.a. credit. By way of a simple example of the power of leverage, in a booming housing market, leverage enables a homeowner to turn little-to-no-equity into a hefty profit ($10k down, $90k loan to buy a house; sell in two years for $150k and you made 500%!). However, when that housing market goes bust (or even just stops booming), the levered homeowner suddenly can’t cash out or see his minimal equity position wiped out. Since he has little skin in the game, he lets the loss go fully to the bank. We are now seeing this happen en masse.

Heads I win. Tails you lose.

It is the same with banks, except in a monstrous, centralized, global, and ridiculously more complicated (thanks to derivatives) way.

So it is becoming widely understood how credit and leverage can muck things up.

The less (or not-at-all) acknowledged problem is our corporatist legal system whereby businesses can incorporate and separate personal loss from business loss. By default, creating a corporation is essentially creating a public negative externality. How so? Well, a corporation can only bear the cost of its failures to the extent of the capital invested. So even without any leverage, the corporation is incentivized to take on more risk than it has capital to cover in order to maximize profits. When times are good, this is incredibly profitable. When times are bad, corporations go bankrupt even as the CEOs and risk-taking managers who messed up get off with their wages and bonuses!

Tack onto this corporatist system the aforementioned system of leverage you key a system built to blow-up.

Despite all of the free option discussion, I’m not sure NNT understands the bald-faced simplicity of the problem of severing risk from loss. However, Taleb hints at a clearcut understanding when he makes mention of Roman soldiers. Soldiers have skin in the game – their lives. If they screw up, they risk their own life. When a CEO of a corporation screws up, they risk the wealth of their investors and that of general stakeholders in the event that their screw-up pushes waste onto society.

In fact, the incentive scheme commonly in place does the exact opposite of what an “incentive” system should be about: it encourages a certain class of risk-hiding and deferred blow-up. It is the reason banks have never made money in the history of banking, losing the equivalent of all their past profits periodically – while bankers strike it rich. Furthermore, it is thatincentive scheme that got us in the current mess. . . .

If capitalism is about incentives, it should be about true incentives, those resistant to blow-ups. And there should be disincentives to remove the asymmetry of the free option. Entrepreneurs are rewarded for their gains; they are also penalised for their losses. . . .

However, when it comes to banks and other “too big to fail” entities, the problem is severe: we taxpayers in our respective countries are funding these global monsters and are coughing up money for mistakes made by bankers who retain their bonuses and are hijacking us because, as we are discovering (a little late), banking is a utility and we need them to clean up their mess. We, in fact, are the seller of that free option. We should claim it back. . . .

Indeed, the incentive system put in place by financial companies has produced the worst possible economic system mankind can imagine: capitalism for the profits and socialism for the losses.

Finally, I was involved in trading for 21 years and I can testify that traders consciously play the free option game. On the other hand, I worked (in my other job as risk adviser) with various military organisations and people watching over our safety. We trust military and homeland security people with our lives, yet they do not get a bonus. They get promotions, the honour of a job well done and the disincentive of shame if they fail. Roman soldiers signed a sacramentum accepting punishment in the event of failure. This is prompting me to call for the nationalisation of the utility part of banking as the only solution in which society does not grant individuals free options to look after its risks.

No incentive without disincentive. And never trust with your money anyone making a potential bonus.

George Soros finally gets it

http://optionarmageddon.m…inally-gets-it/

Rolfe over at Option Armageddon tackles George Soros amazing flip-flop from his side-pocket banking position that he publicized a bit over two weeks ago (Feb. 4).

As I commented on OA, it seems more and more true believers in the financial system are losing faith and turning into apostates. What’s interesting in Soros’ case is how dire he paints the present situation, comparing it to the collapse of the Soviet Union. Perhaps he’s not far off the mark.

Per Rolfe:

Anyway, only three weeks after arguing “side-pockets” were the magic bullet, Soros now sounds downright despondent. Reuters:

Renowned investor George Soros said on Friday the world financial system has effectively disintegrated, adding that there is yet no prospect of a near-term resolution to the crisis.

Soros said the turbulence is actually more severe than during the Great Depression, comparing the current situation to the demise of the Soviet Union.

He said the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers in September marked a turning point in the functioning of the market system.

“We witnessed the collapse of the financial system,” Soros said at a Columbia University dinner. “It was placed on life support, and it’s still on life support. There’s no sign that we are anywhere near a bottom.”

Three weeks ago George thought all we needed was a little financial engineering. Now he sees “no prospect” of resolution and says we’re falling like the Soviet Union. What changed? My guess is that George finally started to think outside the box; he put his big brain to work thinking about the very foundation of our economic system and realized its broken.

Why highlight this particular flip-flop with a blog post? I think it’s emblematic, and not in a good way.

I continue to be struck by the level of ignorance among our captains of industry, our leading policitians, our financial elite and, most ominously, our economic “experts.” Few appear to recognize the depth of the crisis we face. Most still aren’t prepared to ask the hard, fundamental questions about our economic system. Anyone who mentions the gold standard, for instance, is treated as a novelty.

The problem, I think, is that so many of our leaders are tied immovably to the old way of doing business. A man will make himself believe most anything if his salary depends on it. Lots of salaries are at risk, so lots of heels are digging themselves in.

Anyway, as I’ve argued for awhile, the only way to “solve” the crisis is to let asset prices fall. And that means the balance sheets on which those assets currently reside need to recognize substantial losses. Call it the “Fight Club” solution*—everyone goes back to $0. This would be highly painful for ALL Americans. But it would be most painful for those with the most to lose…

—————

*Fight Club screenplay:

JACK
…I believe the plan is to blow up the headquarters of these credit card companies and the TRW building.

STERN
Why these buildings? why credit card companies?

JACK
If you erase the debt record, we all go back to zero. It’ll create total chaos.

As I noted (H/T MVC), today happens to be Chuck Palahniuk’s, Fight Club author, birthday.

There’s No Biz Like No Biz at Twitter! (And Will Google Swoop In Before It All Comes Crashing Down?)

http://kara.allthingsd.co…-crashing-down/

Another dotcom valuation – is Twitter worth $250mm? More?

Since BoomTown constantly called the $15 billion valuation of Facebook “insane” when Microsoft forked over $240 million in 2007 and gave Slide’s Max Levchin a very hard time when his widget company got a $550 million valuation a year ago, it’s only fair that I say something equally appropriate about Twitter. The hot microblogging service just got its very own $250 million valuation, all without a dime of revenue in sight. (I know, Bijan, it’s coming, it’s coming!)