Would you hire a patty? A tasty take on in­no­va­tion

Jamaica Gleaner - - BUSINESS - Fran­cis Wade Fran­cis Wade is a man­age­ment con­sul­tant and au­thor. To re­ceive a Sum­mary of Links to past col­umns, or give feed­back, email col­umns@ fw­con­sult­ing.com.

MOST COR­PO­RATE ex­ec­u­tives and en­trepreneurs would agree that true in­no­va­tion is hard to come by. It’s eas­ier to copy what some­one else is do­ing.

In this ar­ti­cle, I share an ap­proach that opens the door to in­no­va­tive prod­uct think­ing. It starts with an un­usual ques­tion which I have ap­plied to the sim­ple Ja­maican beef patty.

The ques­tion of pat­ties do­ing jobs may be a bit strange, but it’s an im­por­tant one that Clay Chris­tensen, Har­vard Busi­ness School pro­fes­sor, would ask the own­ers of Tas­tee or Juici Pat­ties. He wouldn’t be face­tious. It’s a step he takes to spur his clients to in­no­va­tive prod­uct think­ing, a topic he’s spent the bet­ter part of three decades re­search­ing.

I have no idea how these own­ers would re­spond, but here are the three jobs I hire my patty to per­form for me.


A patty pro­vides me with a quick feel­ing of sat­is­fac­tion. While it’s not my first choice of a meal due to its high calo­rie and fat con­tent, when my time is short; it’s the de­fault.

So I haven’t been happy to see pat­ties get smaller, thin­ner and emp­tier over the years.

If the job I want my patty to per­form is typ­i­cal, then own­ers should be ask­ing: How can we al­le­vi­ate im­me­di­ate hunger?

I’m no ex­pert in phys­i­ol­ogy, but a sim­ple cup of wa­ter for cus­tomers, while they wait in line, could help. So would a sin­gle com­pli­men­tary piece of hard­dough bread.


A ‘long line for pat­ties’ is an oxy­moron. The pas­try is meant to be pur­chased and eaten quickly, which is why we en­ter a shop to pick up one that’s fresh from the oven.

When a com­pany doesn’t man­age the ex­pec­ta­tion of a speedy pur­chase, it vi­o­lates the job I want to get done: to min­imise the gap be­tween de­ci­sion and con­sump­tion. Un­for­tu­nately, the staff in most shops ap­pears to be bliss­fully un­aware of this fact. They drift around like the worst civil ser­vants, in a seem­ing stu­por. They af­fect that ‘I hate my bor­ing job’ fa­cial ex­pres­sion which in­di­cates that they wish they were do­ing some­thing else with their lives.

Per­haps you have also aban­doned a patty shop be­cause the line was too long or mov­ing too slowly. In these cases, we would rather go hun­gry than be late for an ap­point­ment. This act of seek­ing an al­ter­na­tive is what Chris­tensen would call “fir­ing a patty”, be­cause it’s not do­ing its job.


Un­like other meals, a patty is of­ten meant to be con­sumed on the go. It’s per­fect for those awk­ward mo­ments when you are caught be­tween places: stuck in traf­fic, walk­ing be­tween meet­ings, head­ing out the door.

While other meals re­quire you to sit down, con­cen­trate and use two hands, a patty doesn’t get in the way of your phys­i­cal mo­tion or ac­tiv­ity. It doesn’t even need uten­sils.

How­ever, its crumbs — which make it so tasty — are a prob­lem. When they show up around your mouth, or on your clothes, you hate it. Ask for an ex­tra nap­kin be­fore­hand and you might be lucky to get ex­actly one more.

Is the stan­dard brown pa­per bag the ideal re­cep­ta­cle? It meets some needs — dis­pos­able, in­ex­pen­sive, en­vi­ron­men­tally friendly; but not oth­ers — it hardly stops the crumbs from fall­ing out. In this case, I am short of an­swers but, the com­pany that can find a way to im­prove porta­bil­ity could be at an ad­van­tage.

As you may tell, my three re­sponses are just the be­gin­ning. Once you start ask­ing the ‘jobs to be done’ ques­tions, you can gen­er­ate pow­er­ful new in­sights, espe­cially if you recog­nise that cus­tomers have a blend of two kinds of ex­pec­ta­tions.

The first kind is func­tional, where your prod­uct or ser­vice meets cer­tain tan­gi­ble re­quire­ments. Job 2, that is, a speedy trans­ac­tion) is a good ex­am­ple. It’s easy to mea­sure and is eas­ily ex­tended to other fac­tors such as avail­able park­ing.

The sec­ond ex­pec­ta­tion cus­tomers have is one that’s purely emo­tional, re­lated to their feel­ings. For ex­am­ple, some use it as com­fort food be­cause it re­minds them of their child­hood. Pat­ties hap­pen to re­mind me of my fa­ther, who asked for them al­most ev­ery Satur­day.

Un­for­tu­nately, many com­pa­nies don’t dig deep enough, lead­ing them to miss big op­por­tu­ni­ties to help cus­tomers get jobs done. When cus­tomers turn around and fire their prod­ucts, they shrug off the episode, fail­ing to seek fun­da­men­tal im­prove­ments.

For ex­am­ple, few firms make sus­tained, dis­ci­plined ef­forts to make their prod­ucts bet­ter and cheaper. How­ever, such ef­forts would fit a job ev­ery sin­gle cus­tomer is try­ing to get done: to im­prove the value/price equa­tion.

The frame­work of­fers an ap­proach that helps com­pa­nies meet their cus­tomers’ needs in unique ways.


A patty is in­no­vately dis­played along­side pas­try in this Oc­to­ber 21 photo.

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