What are you “firing” when you hire a dedicated innovation team?

Andrea F Hill
5 min readMar 21, 2017

The Jobs-to-be-Done (JTBD) theory is all about progress. We hire a particular product or services because we believe it’ll help us make the progress we seek. Life will be better/easier with this new thing we’ve hired.

In his book “When Coffee and Kale Compete”, Alan Klement advises readers to consider the tradeoffs being made; what is being ‘fired’ when you hire a new product or service. For example, when the Google Pixel came out, I eagerly fired my iPhone 6. When the new season of The Path came out, I (temporarily) fired “going to the gym” in the evenings.

Aside: As I started working on this post, I asked the question on twitter to see what others thought. The question “who do you fire” caused some alarm for people who thought I literally meant firing staff to outsource this function. What I had in mind was more about the process; what processes will change if a dedicated team is put in place.

As I set out as an innovation consultant to establish Frameplay, I asked myself this question for my prospective clients.

What does a company give up when they hire an innovation consultant, or make someone ‘responsible for innovation’?

How is the future going to be better, and why? That question can only be answered with an understanding of what progress the prospect is trying to make, what barriers are in her way, and how she’s attempting to overcome those barriers now.

How is your customer trying to overcome the barriers standing between her and the progress she wants to make?

Let’s say a company is trying to figure out what new product to introduce to the market. There are a lot of stages to actually getting something into the market, and for the sake of simplicity, we can look at the Design Thinking methodology for this example.

A company may be struggling with barriers all along the path from understanding the target customer up through developing a viable business model. But chances are, you don’t have (m)any people in your company whose primary job responsibility is any of the activities listed above.

So.. how do you prioritize your work activities, if something isn’t explicitly part of your responsibilities?

Chances are, those things that aren’t part of your core job responsibilities fall to the wayside. Your company may claim it wants to make progress towards releasing new products or services, but is it structured to ensure that progress is being made?

Enter the dedicated innovation team member or consultant.

When you hire a dedicated resource, that person’s entire focus is on ensuring progress is made.

So if the innovator is hired to come up with a list of possible new product concepts, the company may ‘fire’ a PM or the founder from performing that task in addition to everything else he’s responsible for.

Or, employee-engagement activities like hackathons may hit the chopping block. In this case, the trade-off is that those employees can spend their time focusing on what they were actually hired to do (make the existing product better).

The Four Forces

There is a concept in JTBD theory called the Four Forces. These are the four forces that come into play when someone has a decision to make. The relative strength of the forces determine whether the decision-maker will opt for change, or keep the incumbent.

Let’s pull this out of theory and look at an example, shall we?

ReadyTalk is a 150-person audio and web-conferencing provider based in Denver, CO. While the company had enjoyed over a decade of success, a couple years ago it recognized a need to diversify its product portfolio. (You may have heard of competitors Webex, GoToMeeting and Zoom?)

I helped ReadyTalk establish its dedicated innovation team, and in return, they fired painful, expensive quarterly prioritization meetings. The dedicated team researched and presented business opportunities as they arose, rather than the senior leadership having to spend time digging into half-explored ideas.

Push of the situation:

  • The business needed options to diversify their product portfolio. Given market forces, this was strong.

Pull of the new idea:

  • Having a team responsible for vetting new ideas took the pressure off the busy leadership team
  • The team was laser focused on this task
  • The team had the right background and established processes to perform these activities

Anxiety of the new solution:

  • ReadyTalk made the financial investment to hire full-time staff onto this team

Allegiance to current behavior:

  • Employees thoroughly enjoyed activities like hackathons and lean startup weeks

ReadyTalk made the investment because of the progress-making forces, but of course there were trade-offs. The program was structured to minimize objections: they kept the employee-engagement activities, they just didn’t rely on them as the sole source of new product ideas and validation.

ReadyTalk management knew the progress they wanted to make, and saw a better future by hiring a dedicated innovation team to take responsibility for generating and testing options for them. They fired complacency and blind hope. They fired expensive, ineffective meetings. The team they hired brought them tremendous value, with three new product concepts accelerated into the execution stage within a single year.

Your company is probably not a carbon copy of ReadyTalk. But you just read a blog post about dedicated innovation resources, so there’s something holding you back from making the progress you want to. What do you need to hire or fire to get your company moving forward?

One more thing…

I recognize there’s one big force that may be holding many mid-sized companies back; the financial investment in full-time staff. That’s why I launched Frameplay Consulting LLC. Rather than hiring full-time employees to be constantly evaluating new options, a company can hire us for a limited-time engagement. We can provide the services you need through Inspiration and Ideation stages, and then leave you to execute until you’re ready to take on another new product or service.

If you’re interested in learning more about how short-term innovation services can help your company, please reach out!

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Andrea F Hill

Sr Digital Analyst with the BC Public Service Digital Investment Office, former web dev & product person. 🔎 Lifelong learner. Unapologetic introvert. Cat mom.