Dave Norton, founder of experience insights consultancy Stone Mantel, and I recently wrote an article online for the Harvard Business Review that it commissioned as part of a series on Creating a Compelling Customer Experience.
As Dave and I discussed what made the most sense to write, we drew on a number of streams of (individual and collective) thinking and quickly determined we wanted in particular to use a framework on platforms – leading to genius platforms – that we’d been noodling on for a while.
The idea came when Dave pulled me into a project Stone Mantel was doing with a major television broadcaster.
My role – as is often the case with Dave – was to develop frameworks that would benefit the client and point the way forward.
(I still remember that at one point early on there was a huge amount of information shared on the screen with all these data points about TV watchers and the company’s offerings.
It was tough to make sense of, and Dave said, “I’m sure Joe already has a framework that explains all this.” I hadn’t even been thinking about that yet, but focused on the task and within two minutes had a great 2×2 framework that indeed made sense of it.)
Going Beyond Smart to Genius
At another point we were all discussing how difficult it was to figure out what one wanted to watch because the number of channels had grown tremendously.
Someone mentioned that today’s TV services (cable, satellite, hotel) had “smart” guides that displayed channels. I said I could remember growing up having only five channels of broadcast TV, and my mother loyally looked through the old TV Guide to determine what was on.
If the digital guides were smart, of course that made the paper guides dumb, a computer term that for ages has meant a device or tool with no digital intelligence in it.
And if TV Guide published a paper magazine today with hundreds and hundreds of channels in it, I remarked that using such an unwieldly publication would be stupid.
Ah, then – noticing the neat progression in play – I said what we need is a guide that was neither stupid nor dumb but went beyond smart to genius.
And that’s exactly what is needed in that industry, a genius platform to determine what one wants to watch at any moment in time, in effect creating a TV with one channel: the channel of what I want to watch now.
Such genius platforms are needed in many industries, and the best one I’ve ever seen is Carnival Corp.’s Ocean Medallion.
Jobs-to-be-Done & Modes
Dave and I have been extending this idea ever since, and he came up with the great framework included in the HBR article.
Core to that framework is the jobs-to-be-done approach to understanding company needs, something elucidated most well by one of Stone Mantel’s guiding lights, the late Harvard Business School Professor Clayton Christensen.
Dave is one of the world’s foremost authorities on jobs to be done, and has extended it to incorporate the brilliant concept of modes, the primary way people get things done in their lives.
As we say in the article, a “mode is a mindset and set of behaviors that people get into temporarily; for example, we can be in work mode one moment, and mommy/daddy mode the next, then back to work mode, and then on to dinner-making mode.”
And when it comes to genius platforms, while “smart products customize outputs to the individual, genius platforms individualize offerings to the particular set of jobs the individual wants to get done in whatever mode they’re in at a particular point in time.”
Time Well Spent
The final stream of thought in the article on genius platforms is the description of experiences as time well spent.
Dave introduced this term to me around fifteen years ago, and it’s a beautiful description of the value economic experiences bring to people: they value the time they spend with companies in the experiences staged for them.
It led to the first article we ever wrote together, “Unique experiences: disruptive innovations offer customers more ‘time well spent’”, in the pages of Strategy & Leadership.
The term really hit home for me a few years later when a European client described an offering as providing its customers with “time well saved”.
Aha! I thought. What a perfect pairing with Dave’s phrase.
Services provide time well saved, but experiences offer time well spent!
I now use that juxtaposition all the time (if you pardon the pun) in describing the differences between services and experiences.
Time Wasted vs. Time Well Invested
This line of thinking eventually led me to extend it into a time progression – not unlike the progression leading to genius platforms – where the level below time well saved is time wasted. And companies waste their customers’ time, well, all the time.
My favorite example: you go into a hospital or other healthcare setting and the first thing the receptionist does is ask you to fill out a form of information the organization already has. Time. Wasted.
And the fourth level in this time progression is of course time well invested.
That is the impeccable descriptor for transformations, the final economic offering where companies use experiences as the raw material to guide people to change, to help them achieve their aspirations.
Companies that guide transformations are in “The ‘New You’ Business”, as Dave and I, with my partner Jim Gilmore and lead author Lance Bettencourt, put it in an article in the January/February 2022 issue of the Harvard Business Review.
You can also read more about the time progression in the article “Competing for Customer Time” in Duke Corporate Education’s Dialogue publication.
Bringing It All Together
And you can read how these three thought streams come together in the recent HBR on genius platforms, “Are Your Digital Platforms Wasting Your Customers’ Time”.
As you read it, be sure to ask yourself the question in the title.
If you are wasting your customers’ time, think about how you can understand what jobs your individual, living breathing customers want to get done based on what mode they are in at this moment in time.
Then use that insight to offer time well spent and perhaps even time well invested through a genius platform.
Even if you can’t create one yourself, find your role in those genius platforms being created by others to greatly increase the economic value you create for your business.