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Francis Wade | Would you hire a patty? - A tasty take on innovation

Published:Friday | November 18, 2016 | 12:00 AM
A patty is displayed alongside pastry in this October 21, 2016 photo.

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.


Job 1 To Satisfy My Hunger


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 hard-dough bread.


Job 2 To Provide Fast Relief


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.


Job 3 To Be A Portable Solution


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.

- Francis Wade is a management consultant and author. To receive a Summary of Links to past columns, or give feedback, email