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Cohort Alpha

What is the Job To Be Done by CohortAlpha?

5 min read
filled clear drinking glass on top of white table
Photographer: Josh Sorenson | Source: Unsplash

Clayton Christensen wrote about the "job to be done" framework for innovation. In this post, I am thinking through the JTBD for Cohort Alpha after talking with the first Cohort and reflecting on my own experiences.

Christensen talks about why people hired a milkshake. It was by understanding that that McDonald's could innovate around whom to target to expand addressable market and perhaps even adapt their product.

Here is my first take, taking quotes from the article it links to:

“Job” is shorthand for what an individual really seeks to accomplish in a given circumstance.

What is it that I believe the target audience wants to really accomplish for a given circumstance? Defining the circumstance is key: "The circumstances are more important than customer characteristics, product attributes, new technologies, or trends."

What are the circumstances?

Based on the topics of conversations, the common circumstances were the following:

  • "Political" pressures or tensions within the company or department
  • Unexpected change, such as more span of control or change in function
  • Disappointment in terms of pace, trajectory or rewards of one's career

From these, I believe some of the objectives in these discussions -- what the individual seeks to accomplish -- included:

  • Gaining counsel from others who shared a similar experience
  • Receiving informed, external feedback on interpreting situation or executing a plan
  • Feeling supported and understood during the process

But the article goes on to say that circumstances and jobs to be done isn't purely functional:

Jobs are never simply about function—they have powerful social and emotional dimensions.

While the specific questions and problem statements discussed (the format for the meeting was for each member to frame their topics as a single well-defined problem statement) were very functional, the underlying, intangible value was, in fact, "social and emotional."

The support provided was just as valuable as the information, shared networks, and wisdom.

American Girl has prevailed for so long because it’s not really selling dolls: It’s selling an experience.

Going through the rest of the article:

What experiences will help customers make the progress they’re seeking in a given circumstance?

The first experience is one of personal growth.

This is where the curation process and the content-driven meetings come in.

People joining want to experience growth to address their challenges and have a wiser, more informed view of the world.

This comes primarily from the quality of people.

The second experience is something along the lines of safety.

We kept the groups small with consistent members who all agreed to confidentiality. No one from the same company was in the same cohort.

This created a rare space: a place where people can drive personal growth because of the mutual respect while removing the politics and competition found in the workplace.

The third experience is feeling one's "network expanding."

One of the benefits of attending each CohortAlpha was meeting with people I wouldn't normally see in the course of my day. Because people were coming from companies or backgrounds that were on similar trajectories within the tech space, it had the feeling of expanding "loose ties": knowing people who can help connect us to other people and opportunities.

Because of the form factor, the "network expanding" nature wasn't on the forefront. But I did notice that one person indicated that, after meeting for 18 months, he was seeking new people to meet. This will need to balance the consistency or intimacy, but confirms that one wants to have this feeling of connecting more broadly, as well.

Some of the more productive sessions were when people in the group would offer to connect another member to their respective networks. It didn't happen regularly, but when it did, it heightened the experience that the Cohort was helping to fulfill this "job."

Those are three of the primary experiences that people both get from being part of Cohort Alpha, but also are seeking when going through the circumstances of politics and transition.

What obstacles must be removed?

The competition is doing nothing. I think the status quo for most people is to not have a safe, diverse, and curated space where people can grow and "network."

From a cold start, there are a number of obstacles.

The first is finding the people in the first place. The first reaction I get from people -- especially those who are not going through the key circumstances -- is "How is this different from a Meetup?"

When you are in a circumstance of politics and transition, a Meetup probably aggravates the situation. People in a tough spot often cannot find solace at a Meetup; and depending on their circumstances, could even hinder them from forming the relationships they need to push through.

Because of the inertia and friction to connect with people, most people just don't do it -- until forced to. Part of it is due to inertia of forming the group in the first place. Part of it is ignorance -- people don't think about the need of this "third place" in order to thrive at work and life.

One of my favorite quotes is:

The time to repair a roof is when the sun is shining. -- John F. Kennedy

The biggest impediment is people first realizing they even need to repair the roof; the second is making it easier to do.

The second obstacle is getting people to actually come together.

I removed some of this by creating a regular meeting time every month -- lunch provided thanks to my company.

Given the amount of leftover food and the small size of the Cohort, this didn't incur extra cost and made it attractive for those attending.

I wrote about proximity being a critical filter to forming a consistent Cohort. That's part of the curation process.

The second part was shared commitment. Once people knew that other people were going to go, that increased the required level of commitment.

The second way is to increase upfront investment: membership fees. The goal isn't to make it expensive, it's to increase commitment. It's sort of like gym memberships: people are more likely to go (even though attrition is often still high) when there's a fee involved.

The funds can also be used to further reduce friction and increase the quality of the experience.

These are my thoughts on the "job to be done" aspect of Cohort Alpha, and as they crystallize, I do feel there's an important role and benefit it can play in people's lives.