Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


Why Innovation Really Starts With Psychology, Not Technology

Exploring how insights into human needs drive successful businesses.

For as long as Nadine can remember, she has had an entrepreneurial mind. At the age of 14, she started selling cold lemonade at a local farmer’s market in India, intuitively knowing that shoppers would appreciate a refreshing drink in the sweltering heat. Her venture eventually evolved into selling sandwiches and meals to nearby offices, driven by her passion for cooking and her vibrant personality.

However, when Nadine decided to expand and hire a delivery person, removing her direct interaction with customers, her business unexpectedly declined. Upon revisiting the offices, she learned a hard truth: her dishes were not as tasty as her presence was charming. The personal touch she provided was the actual job her service fulfilled—comfort and a bright spot in the employees' day, more than just nourishment.

In the world of business, especially through the lens of the "Jobs to be Done" framework, Nadine’s experience is a profound example of how products or services often have hidden emotional or psychological jobs. This concept is echoed in another story from the '90s, when McDonald's tried to improve their milkshakes. Despite implementing various flavor enhancements, sales did not improve until they consulted with Clayton Christensen. He discovered that the primary job of the milkshake was not merely to quench thirst but to serve as a filling, easy-to-consume companion for long commutes.

Moving from food to real estate, the story of Bob Moesta, an innovation consultant, further illustrates this framework. Tasked with boosting sales of condominiums in Detroit, Moesta didn't focus on enhancing physical features as the architects did. Instead, he delved into understanding the psychological purpose these condos served. Through interviews, he discovered that what truly mattered to potential buyers wasn’t the luxurious touches or even the specific amenities; it was whether they could envision where their cherished dining room table—the heart of family memories—would fit in the new space.

This insight reveals a profound truth about consumer behavior: People often make decisions based not just on the physical or functional attributes of a product but on deeply emotional and psychological needs. The dining room table wasn’t just a piece of furniture; it was a symbol of family continuity and emotional security.

Both stories highlight a critical mistake many businesses make: focusing on the product or technology itself rather than the underlying needs or jobs that the product is hired to do. By understanding these needs, companies can not only create products that are more likely to succeed but also connect with their customers on a deeper level, fulfilling needs that customers themselves might not have been able to articulate.

Innovation, therefore, is not just about making things better, faster, or cheaper. It’s about deeper insights into the human experience, understanding the roles that products and services play in our lives, and how they help us solve problems, not just in practical ways but also emotionally and psychologically. Whether it's a comforting presence during a stressful workday or the emotional struggle of downsizing a home, the real job of a product goes far beyond its specifications.

As we design and innovate, whether in technology, food, or housing, understanding the psychological "job" to be done can be the most powerful tool in our arsenal. It’s not just about what products do, but about what they mean to the people who use them.


Christensen, C. M., Hall, T., Dillon, K., & Duncan, D. S. (2016). Know your customers’ jobs to be done. Harvard business review, 94(9), 54-62.

More from Liraz Margalit Ph.D.
More from Psychology Today