BY CHRISTIAN SARKAR, ANTHONY ULWICK and PHILIP KOTLER

In his e-pamphlet — Rebalancing SocietyHenry Mintzberg points out that a balanced society can be thought of as “sitting on a stool with three sturdy legs: a public sector of respected governments, to provide many of our protections (such as policing and regulating); a private sector of responsible businesses, to supply many of our goods and services; and a plural sector of robust communities, wherein we find many of our social affiliations.”

Unfortunately, many private sector business leaders function under the myth that they alone create value, and the public and plural sectors simply get in the way. It is this mindset which has led to the state of collapse facing society today. Raymond Aron called this the Age of Ideology, and we wonder what it will take to actually rebalance society. What approaches can we use to better understand the needs of society? Is there a method we can all agree to which could depoliticize decision-making?

The traditional Jobs to be Done (JTBD) approach proposes that in order to understand customer needs in a way that makes innovation predictable, companies should stop jumping into the solution space and instead first work to understand on the “jobs” that customers are trying to get done.

Thus, the value creation process is to understand the criteria people use to measure success when getting a job done and to create solutions that help them get the job done faster, more predictably and with higher efficiency or throughput.

But what happens when there are multiple stakeholders?

More importantly, what are the unmet needs of society? And can we use Job to be Done to better understand what those needs are?

The Private Sector

In the private sector, business has spent considerable energy trying to understand how to create value for the customer. Outcome-Driven Innovation is based on the idea that when managers focus a product or service squarely on a job that has been poorly addressed in the past—and that a lot of people are trying to get done—it creates a launch pad for value creation; business value, that is, value for the customer, and profits for the business and its shareholders.

Thus, companies that pay attention to the needs and wants of their future customers are more aware of their concerns and fears. This is precisely why Brand Activism has become more strategic over the last few years.

But can the outcome-driven approach be applied to public sector value creation? To societal value? To environmental value?

The Public Sector

Jobs to be Done has, in fact, been used by a few government agencies to help them better understand their service levels, their delivery models, and how to get closer to the customer – you, the citizen.

For government to work, we will have to understand what the needs of its constituents are. Unfortunately, a common language for communicating a need does not exist.

Consequently, while many government employees may have “customer” knowledge, agencies and departments rarely have a complete list of agreed upon constituent needs. Not only that, but increasingly government agencies are being politicized, driven by politics and ideology rather than rational policy.

Is there anyone in your agency that knows all the constituents’ needs? Is there agreement across the organization on what those needs are? Is there agreement on which needs are unmet? If not, then how can there be agreement on what services to provide?

The Plural Sector

The exact same problem applies to the plural sector which includes cooperatives, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), unions, religious orders, social movements, and even some hospitals and universities. These diverse types of organizations and associations don’t have a shared language to define needs, other than what they have in common — community.

Of course, the plural sector is crowded with mission-driven, collaborative organizations and associations, but few of them collaborate with each other. This fragmentation is can be particularly wasteful when it comes to philanthropy and aid organizations.

Who Speaks for the Planet?

How do we listen to the Voice of the Planet?

Perhaps we should listen to the experts, the scientists who study the health of the planet?

Maybe we can ask David Attenborough, who says: “Things are going to get worse. The question is how much worse, and how quickly is it going to get worse. The speed is accelerating. Whatever we do now, it’s going to get worse. And unless we act within the next 10 years … we are in real trouble.”

It’s about the interconnectedness of everything, he explains: “…unless you understand the natural world, you don’t understand how the interconnections are so complex that you can damage it without knowing what you’re doing. Understanding the complexity of the natural world is one of the crucial things.”

Can that be translated into environmental needs, into societal needs?

The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) is an independent intergovernmental body established in Panama City, on 21 April 2012 by 94 Governments.

The mission? To strengthen the science-policy interface for biodiversity and ecosystem services for the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity, long-term human well-being and sustainable development. It is not a United Nations body. 

The point is to harness the best expertise from across all scientific disciplines and knowledge communities – to provide policy-relevant knowledge and to catalyze the implementation of knowledge-based policies at all levels in government, the private sector and civil society.

But is anyone listening to all this expert advice?

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The Unmet Needs of Society

How will we listen and understand what is needed if we can’t agree on a common vision?

 The truth is we don’t even have a clear definition of what a need is. 

Before we can start to understand what the unmet needs of society might be, we must agree on what a need is—and the types of needs that each of the sectors have. Then, we have to use multi-stakeholder JTBD to prioritize and balance those needs.

When defined correctly, a societal need has five unique and extremely valuable characteristics:

First, a societal job is stable; it doesn’t change over time. It’s the delivery vehicle or the technology that changes. Through this decades-long evolution of drastically changing technology platforms, the Job-to-be-Done has remained the same. The job is a stable focal point around which to create constituent value.

Second, a societal job has no geographical boundaries. People who live in the USA, France, UK, Germany, South Korea, China, Russia, Brazil and Australia have many jobs in common that they are trying to get done. The solutions they use to get those jobs done may vary dramatically from geography to geography, but the jobs are the same. The degree to which the constituent’s desired outcomes are underserved may also vary by geography, depending on the solutions they use, but their collective set of desired outcomes are the same. Consequently, knowledge of the Job-to-be-Done in one geography can be leveraged globally.  This has implications on serious implications for good governance practices and learning.

Third, a societal job is solution agnostic. The job has no solution boundaries. This means that a deep understanding of the job will inform the creation of a solution that combines all service components. It also informs a digitization strategy—ways to use technology to get a job done better.

Fourth, a societal job must protect the common good. In other words, one sector cannot gain advantage at the expense of the other sectors – particularly in connection with public goods.

Fifth, a societal job must be unifying. It must rise above emotion, ideology and identity-driven politics. The job of responsible businesses, governments, and non-profits is to come together to address the world’s most urgent problems a.k.a. the unmet needs of society.

What are the types of jobs that meet these criteria? There are two ways to find out:

(1) interview a representative sample of all stakeholders, and use techniques that seek to understand the job to be done. Jobs to be Done provides a framework for (i) categorizing, defining, capturing, and organizing all your stakeholder needs, and (ii) tying stakeholder-defined performance metrics (in the form of desired outcome statements) to the Job to be Done. Once we understand what the needs are for each stakeholder, then the job of selecting them becomes a matter of prioritization.

or,

(2) prioritize the jobs to be done based on the findings of statisticians and experts, coupled with the voice of the sectors. We have chosen seven wicked problems as our starting point, based on the brand activism research work we have done since 2017.

The Wicked7 as we call them are:

  • The Death of Nature
  • Inequality
  • Hate & Conflict
  • Power & Corruption
  • Work & Technology
  • Health & Livelihood
  • Population & Migration

While we aren’t convinced we are covering all the world’s most urgent problems, we view the Wicked7 as a good starting point to begin the conversation.

Structure: How Do We Come Together?

By definition, solving society’s most urgent problems is a balancing act between the various requirements and needs of the different stakeholders across all sectors.  Our policy-making must be driven by this idea of balance if it is to create a sustainable and resilient society.

Unfortunately, since we still think and act in vertical silos, the proper study of societal needs must view the four sectors as an integrated and interconnected whole — an ecosystematic Jobs to be Done.

Opportunities at the job level

  • Can the job be executed in a more efficient or effective sequence?
  • Do some members of society struggle more with executing the job than others (for instance, novices versus experts, older versus younger?)
  • What struggles or inconveniences do people experience because they must rely on multiple solutions to get the job done?
  • Is it possible to eliminate the need for particular inputs or outputs from the job?
  • Is it necessary that the customers/individuals execute all steps for which they are currently responsible? Can the burden be automated or shifted to someone else?
  • How many trends affect the way the job is executed in the future?
  • In what contexts do people most struggle with executing the job today? Where else or when else might they want to execute the job?

Opportunities at the step level

  • What causes variability (or unreliability) in executing this step? What causes execution to go off track?
  • Do some people struggle more than others with this step?
  • What does this step’s ideal output look like (and in what ways is the current output less than ideal?)
  • Is this step more difficult to execute successfully in some contexts than others?
  • What are the biggest drawbacks of current solutions used to execute this step?
  • What makes executing this step time-consuming or inconvenient?

Cross-Boundary Structure

The organizational structure of the IPBES shows us how we will have to create new platforms to bring together a wide range of stakeholders to work together for the future.

What’s Stopping Us from Finding Balance?

Unlike business, the government does not get to select which customer segments to serve and which segments to ignore. Government must serve all its citizens and constituents.  When it fails to do so, it becomes dysfunctional. In the US, that describes where we are now.

Katherine Gehl and Michael Porter tell us:

The starting point for understanding the problem is to recognize that our political system isn’t broken. Washington is delivering exactly what it is currently designed to deliver. The real problem is that our political system is no longer designed to serve the public interest, and has been slowly reconfigured to benefit the private interests of gain-seeking organizations: our major political parties and their industry allies.

Competition in politics appears intense, which is usually good for customers. But today’s competition is failing, delivering gridlock and growing division instead of offering practical solutions to the nation’s problems. The parties compete on ideology and unrealistic promises, not on action and results. The parties compete to divide voters and serve special interests, rather than weigh and balance the interests of all citizens and find common ground to move the country forward. And there is no accountability for results. Those who fail the average citizen year after year remain in control.

Add to that this observation by Henry Mintzberg:

In the United States in particular, the private sector now dominates society to such an extent that no established form of political activity is likely to dislodge it. The restoration of balance will thus require some form of renewal unprecedented in American history.

Thus the work ahead is political as well as technical. Again, we must depoliticize our decision-making before it’s too late.

Next question: How do you fund cross-boundary solutions to societal problems?