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Jobs-to-be-done and mental models: Bees and Butterflies during the Covid-19 lockdown

Of thriving bees…

Susan gets up early in the morning before her husband and teenage kids.

The wheater is nice, so she does her normal jogging routine. The fact today, like almost every day, she manages to be fresh and ready when she pushes the button on the coffee machine in the kitchen precisely at 7 o’clock promises a great day ahead.

She takes the coffee to the room next door, opens the windows and starts setting up her home office space. Like every day she stows away her keyboard and mouse in the evening when she’s done working. Or better: She is done working when she ritually stows away keyboard and mouse.

After a quick review of her To-Do list she starts with task #1. Her goal is to finish #4 right before lunch.

… and suffering butterflies

Peter gets back up to grab his second cup of coffee. He doesn’t understand why his boss is so keen on everybody being online this early. He wouldn’t mind working late, but that somehow was not received as a good idea.

As the coffee is pouring into his cup Peter is thinking about what he has actually done the last hour and which of the tasks he should probably start working on next. Yes, in their “daily” it was said that the copy texts should be reviewed until lunch, but there are a bunch of other things that also need to get done. Sure it gets chaotic sometimes but he never missed a deadline and clients were always impressed by his creativity and inspiration.

80/20 he thinks to himself as he sits back down in front of the computer. Oh look, an E-mail, let’s see…

Susan and Peter: Same Job, different mental models when working from home

Although their names are changed here Susan and Peter are characters that led us to the insight of thriving bees and suffering butterflies during the lockdown. Susan is a bee. Peter is a butterfly. Which one are you?

We found that insight in our project “Home? Office? Works!”. In a previous post, we explained that Vendbridge seized the opportunity of the lockdown to get an in-depth perspective on a very rare but insightful moment: Remote work was and still is everywhere due to the Covid-19 lockdown. Never has there been such a rare moment in which all the problems, issues, worries of all kinds of different people relating to working from home were possible to study.

Vendbridge started an open-source (accompanied by webinars) Jobs-to-be-done project “Home? Office? Works!” to study the newborn home office workers. Through the help of friends and the Jobs-to-be-done community, we were able to run 25 qualitative remote Jobs-to-be-done interviews during the lockdown, each lasting between 60-90 minutes.

One of the findings of these Jobs-to-be-done interviews, in short, is this: There are two mental models when thinking about the Job-to-be-done “To work from home”. We called them bees and butterflies. While bees are organized, systematic workers that move from task to task and know what to do next (or in the morning), butterflies are more free-floating. They move from task to task, are rather talkative and tend to be more easily distracted. They are more creative, that’s for sure, but they like to meet people and go from one place/flower to another. Often they work on several tasks simultaneously and switch between them.

This insight (of bees and butterflies) is a combination of two powerful methods: Jobs-to-be-done and mental models. But what is a mental model and Jobs-to-be-done and how do you combine them?

What is a mental model?

People are different. But some people are more similar to each other than to the rest. If you can tune your message, your offering, etc. to the different needs of these groups, you increase the likelihood that they will like the product, the service, or in general have a better user experience. That’s the basic idea of market segmentation, personas, and other ways of building groups of people.

A new way of segmenting people are mental models (for more, see: Mental Modeling). James Clear defines “mental model” as an “overarching term for any sort of concept, framework, or worldview” that people have (Mental Models). Young (2008) says that a mental model is a combination of “behaviors, feelings, and philosophies” of groups of people. In short: A mental model groups people by how that group perceives, experiences and thinks about things – mental models are ways people perceive reality.

They differ from Personas in various ways, if you are interested in that relationship check out this article.

Upgrading mental models with the power of Jobs-to-be-done

Jobs-to-be-done is way of thinking. It has applications in various fields, most prominently in innovation management. As we have proven it can greatly inform strategy, branding, UX and marketing as well. Its core idea is a radical change in perspective for businesses: Customers don’t want products or services, they want to achieve Jobs. Only as a function of that Job do customers pull solutions (products and services) into their lives. So, if organizations ask themselves how they should innovate their products and services they must first understand the Job their customer is trying to get done. Because customers judge the value of a new product or service, again, as a function of how well it helps them get their Job done.

There are many resources about Jobs-to-be-done around. If you’re new to it, we recommend Jim Kalbachs Jobs-to-be-done Playbook.

Jobs-to-be-done and mental models can be nicely combined. While mental models emphasize how people are different, Jobs-to-be-done gives you a framework of what all those people have in common.

Maps of mental models often are very complex and less actionable, but if you wrap mental models around a Job-to-be-done the power of both compounds. The result are mental models of people trying to get a Job done, i.e. how different people see, experience and think about what they commonly all are trying to achieve. Susan and Peter are examples of such mental models both trying to get the same Job done.

Mental Model and Jobs-to-be-done based on hard data

Susan the bee and Peter the butterfly are based on qualitative data. For some purposes and questions that might be good enough and there is nothing inherently wrong with qualitative data.

25 interviews is quite good, but still…For some decisions, however, you need to know more, you need to be much more certain and de-bias your views. Both mental models and Jobs-to-be-done can be quantified.

And yes, this exactly what we did in the last month. We now have the data to see how good our assumptions about the suffering butterflies and the thriving bees were. More on that later, though…

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