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Disrupting media: The next great innovation starts with a job to be done

By Brittanie Chludzinski

“Your story needs to be interesting, relevant and useful to the audience.”

I first heard this simple, yet helpful reminder from my professor, Omar Sofradzija, during my freshman year at MSU. To this day, his words still guide my writing decisions and keep my work in check — Am I actually answering the “why?” Does this information actually benefit my audience?

The Nieman Reports article, “Mastering the art of disruptive innovation in journalism,” talks about putting your audience first. In many ways, individuals or organizations who provide the most useful service fuel both competition and growth in the industry today. They’re referred to as newcomers who “deliver a product that is faster and more personalized than that provided by the bigger, more established news organizations.”

According to this article, such disruptions should be embraced. These competitors lead the ongoing digital transition by encouraging pre-existing publications to innovate and contribute to the new network.

So how do these newcomers find the “next big thing?” By analyzing behaviors, identifying the target audiences’ needs (also called their “jobs-to-be-done”), and providing valuable options for them to carry out that job or achieve that specific goal.

The job that Clayton Christensen uses in this article is: “I have 10 minutes while I wait for my coffee, help me fill it.” In this case, people have the option of “hiring” Twitter, Facebook, the Buzzfeed app or a copy of the New York Times to provide entertainment and help them fill this space.

I think this jobs-to-be-done lens connects really well with advice from Paul Graham in, “How to Get Startup Ideas.” Graham advises his readers to, “Live in the future, then build what’s missing.” Often times, this missing element or gap should be something so obvious to you, that you can’t believe someone else hasn’t created it yet!

The jobs-to-be-done approach is my biggest takeaway from these readings, especially as I’ve been brainstorming my own potential media innovations. My first round of ideas unintentionally mimicked other platforms or features that I see and use online every day. I thought about how individuals currently receive their news, and I attempted to build upon this engagement with complementary features and products.

After reading this article, I understand how counterintuitive that is. Why try to create a product that will be fighting for audience attention in the “I need 10 minutes to spare while I wait for my coffee” category?

Instead, we as media entrepreneurs and innovators need to be thinking about “jobs-to-be-done” that cannot be fulfilled by existing platforms or technologies. According to Graham, we must, “Dig a hole that’s narrow and deep like a well.” In other words, create a niche product with the potential for growth.

One example of this successful jobs-to-be-done mindset is the Metro, a free daily newspaper designed as a 20-minute read while young professionals commute to work. Rather than trying to compete with other newspapers, Metro identified the problem that no other publication or organization seemed to be addressing or capitalizing on – the fact that metro riders want entertainment on their way home, but they generally don’t have service on their mobile devices.

While newspaper circulation continues to suffer as indicated by the Pew Research Center’s State of the News Media 2016 report, I was absolutely shocked to learn that Metro, now with 67 daily editions in 22 countries, was able to successfully expand during this tumultuous time for publications making the transition to digital. Because Metro identified a new problem for a niche audience, it provided value to the market and accomplished its goal.

These two articles were incredibly eye opening for me this week, and I think these takeaways can apply to other areas of life as well. Looking at the world through a “problem” and “solution” lens rather than sticking to the status quo can be beneficial in selling your personal brand and bringing unique ideas to the table in any position.

Whether I become a successful media innovator in the future or not, I think these lessons will have a lasting influence in my life both personally and professionally.

 

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