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They Don’t Need a Drill. They Need a Hole.

A framing method for innovation.
What job do your customers need to get done?
photo by James A Guilliam, Getty Images

“What job is your customer trying to get done?”

— Mark W. Johnson, cofounder of Innosight and author of Seizing the White Space, reminds us of Ted Levitt’s famous observation that “people don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill; they want a quarter-inch hole.”

Companies are often blinded by their own offerings, Johnson tells Vern Burkhardt in an interview for IdeaConnection. Companies can escape that myopia by answering the “what” question above and then following up with a series of “why” questions. “It allows you to get beyond framing the innovation idea in terms of product attributes and enables you to think about the idea at its more fundamental level.”



To understand customer needs, watch for “workaround” behaviors—actions they take to “make up for the limitations of existing solutions,” notes Scott Anthony, a colleague of Johnson’s at Innosight, in a post on FastCoDesign.com. For example, after the maker of Wrangler and Lee jeans observed customers bringing dozens of pairs into the dressing room because of unreliable size labels, it ginned up new mechanisms to help people find the right fit.

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