The AwkEng Finds An 80 Year Old Telegram

Hi all,

I found some nearly 80 year old telegrams recently, sent to my grandparents on their wedding day. It tickled my brain, because the telegrams are a fantastic example of "Jobs to be Done" theory, and the idea that core human needs don't change over time, which can be a powerful tool for product design.

The theory has been on my mind a lot lately at work, so I'm excited to find an example from my personal life that I can share here.

First, What is JTBD Theory?

In a nutshell, Jobs to be Done theory is the idea that when people have specific outcomes, or "jobs" to do, whichever product or tool is best to get the job done will get "hired".

So for example, if "getting the car cleaned" is the job, you could hire any number of "tools", like the garden hose, the carwash, the neighbor's kid, or some As Seen On TV gadget. Whichever is best along your particular criteria (ease of use, cost, speed, environmental friendliness, etc), is the one you'll use.

The real power of Jobs to be Done comes into play when you start to segment markets by job, which often leads to actionable insights and strong product decisions.

I illustrate this by pointing out that I'm a 35 year old dad of two, but if you built a movie recommendation service for me, based solely on my age, I'm not sure what would come out. If you were looking at what jobs I have though, you'd see that I want to entertain my kids, have a romantic evening with my wife, or hang out with my friends, and you'd build an entirely different movie recommender. And in all cases, I'm still a 35 year old dad of two.

Why Haven't I Heard of this Before?

It might seem like this idea of figuring out what people are trying to do, then helping them do it, would be well practiced, since the link to commercial product success seem obvious, but unfortunately, practice is often harder than theory.

First, there are long practiced habits to segment by demographics, or some other simple categorization, rather than by job.

Second, teasing out jobs can be tricky. They're often multifaceted in nature and often nested hierarchically inside of other jobs. Food and eating is an incredibly complicated job, because we use it to do so many thing beyond just basic nourishment.

Core Human Needs Don't Change

Even though the jobs might be complicated to tease apart and understand, what I find super fascinating, is that when you peel back all the layers of the onion, you start to find that behind every job is a core job that correlates to some human need. These are things like the need for human connection, the need to feel powerful, the need to feel attractive, respected, etc. etc...

It turns out, these core human needs don't change much with time, if at all, only the technology we use to meet those needs, which now brings us full circle, back to the 80 year old telegram.

Full Circle To The 80 Year Old Telegram

So with all this on my mind, I couldn't help but notice the telegrams that were pasted into my grandparent's wedding scrapbook. They were delivered to the Essex House, in Newark, NJ, where my grandparents got married.

The one below reads "Congratulations and best wishes for a very happy future together."

Someone who couldn't attend sent their best wishes via the written word. Using only sixty-four characters. Not even the full 160 characters allowed in an SMS text message (Is a tweet 480 characters now? It used be 240, right?)

It was uncanny how similar the telegrams were to the text messages that my wife and I received on our wedding day.

Turns out the need to share messages of well wishes hasn't changed in 80 years, the only difference is the technology we use to do it.

Best regards!

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