The Fallacy of Active Versus Passive Data

Clayton Christensen’s new book, Competing Against Luck, lays out the Theory of Jobs to Be Done. It focuses on understanding customers’ struggle for progress and then creating the right solutions and experiences that solve customers’ jobs.

What I like about the Jobs to Be Done (JTB) model is that it avoids words like customer experience, service design, design thinking, agile, big data etc., which are often used in different contexts meaning different things to different people, although these practices are all implicit in JTB.

It shifts thinking from product features to customer value. It provides a model for organisations to become truly customer centric by focusing business functions on understanding and solving the struggles of customers by providing diverse teams with a language of integration.

Key to this shift is for organisations to rethink how they engage with data.

Passive data: the messy context of real life

Much of the information needed to make decisions about solving for a job is found in the context of the struggle. We call that “passive data” because it has no voice or clear structure or champion or agenda.

Making meaning out of the jumble of real-life experiences is not about tabulating data but about assembling the narrative that reveals the Job to Be Done.

Innovators have to immerse themselves in the messy context of real life to figure out what potentially successful new products might offer to customers.

Active data: the crips precision of a spreadsheet

We can predict, however, that, as soon as a Job to Be Done becomes a commercial product, the context-rich view of the job begins to recede as the active data of operations replaces and displaces the passive data of innovation. [emphasis mine]

Managers feel an understandable sense of reassurance when they shift their attention from the hazy contours of a story of struggle to the crisp precision of a spreadsheet.

Data is always an abstraction of reality based on underlying assumptions as to how to categorise the unstructured phenomena of the real world.

As data about operations broadcasts itself loudly and clearly, it’s all too easy–especially as the filtering layers of an organisation increase–for managers to start managing the numbers instead of the job. [emphasis mine]

Organisations are gathering a lot of data about customers, what they are doing. Getting insight from this data without knowing the why of people’s behaviour is hard. Which is why organisations don’t know what to do next. Getting out of the building and understanding the struggles of customers is the place to start. The next challenge is getting the entire organisation focused on the real life struggles of their customers.