Discovering Innovation Opportunities with the 4U Framework

brunette discovering innovation opportunities

In the dynamic landscape of business and technology, identifying the next breakthrough idea, innovation or improvement can seem like searching for a needle in a haystack. However, the Jobs-to-Be-Done (JTBD) framework, with its focus on Urgent, Unavoidable, Unworkable, and Underserved jobs, provides a structured approach to uncovering these opportunities. The 4U framework was first introduced by Michael J Skok, an entrepreneur and speaker at the Harvard Innovation Lab. Let’s dive into it.

Urgent and Unavoidable Jobs-to-Be-Done

Perspective: Urgency and Avoidability of the Jobs-to-be-done

Commonality: Both urgent and unavoidable categories underscore a direct and compelling need for action. Whether due to the intrinsic nature of the need (unavoidable) or the temporal pressure (urgent), jobs in this group demand immediate attention and solution deployment.

Urgent Jobs:

These are characterized by their immediate need for resolution. The time-sensitive nature of these jobs makes them critical to address promptly to prevent negative outcomes or to capitalize on fleeting opportunities.

Key Words: Immediate, Critical, Time-sensitive


  • Time Sensitivity: These jobs require immediate attention or resolution due to their critical nature or the consequences of inaction.
  • Immediate Impact: Solutions to urgent jobs have a direct and immediate effect on alleviating a pressing issue or capitalizing on a fleeting opportunity.
  • Rapidly Evolving Needs: Urgent jobs often arise from sudden changes, crises, or emerging trends that demand a swift response.
  • Dynamic Situations: Often arise in fast-changing environments where delays can exacerbate problems or cause missed opportunities.
  • High Stakes: Delaying or failing to address these jobs can result in significant negative outcomes, making timely and effective solutions highly valued.
  • Heightened Emotional Investment: There is usually a high level of concern, anxiety, or anticipation associated with these jobs, emphasizing the need for swift action.

Contextual Clue: If a job is defined by a critical need for timeliness due to the potential for rapid escalation or opportunity loss, it embodies urgency.


  1. Emergency Medical Services: In medical emergencies, time is of the essence. Services like ambulances and emergency response teams address this urgent job by providing immediate care.
  2. Real-Time Financial Trading Platforms: In the stock market, timing can be critical. Platforms like Robinhood offer real-time trading, enabling users to act on urgent buying or selling opportunities.
  3. Disaster Response and Relief Services: Following natural disasters, quick response is critical. Organizations like the Red Cross provide immediate disaster relief and services, addressing the urgent need for aid and support.

Unavoidable Jobs:

These jobs arise from essential needs or requirements that cannot be ignored or avoided. They are persistent and universal, necessitating solutions that cater to fundamental aspects of human activities or compliance requirements.

Key Words: Essential, Universal, Persistent


  • Fundamental Need: These jobs may arise from basic human needs, societal norms, or regulatory requirements that cannot be ignored.
  • Intrinsic to Existence or Operation: These jobs stem from activities or requirements so deeply embedded in human life, societal functioning, or industry standards that avoiding them is practically impossible. For example, eating, sleeping, and adhering to legal standards.
  • Essential for Functioning or Compliance: Addressing these jobs is critical for individuals or organizations to operate effectively or remain compliant with laws and regulations.
  • Persistence Across Contexts: Unavoidable jobs remain relevant across different environments, cultures, and regulatory landscapes. Affect a wide audience across various demographics, making the potential market for solutions large and diverse.
  • Constant Demand: The need for solutions to unavoidable jobs is ongoing and not significantly influenced by trends or seasonal fluctuations.

Contextual Clue: If a job stems from a need or requirement that is universally understood and consistently present, it’s likely unavoidable.


  1. Cybersecurity in Digital Transactions: As digital transactions become increasingly common, ensuring security becomes an unavoidable job. Companies like NortonLifeLock provide solutions to protect personal and financial information online, addressing this persistent need.
  2. Water Purification for Consumption: Clean water is a fundamental need. Companies like Brita offer home water filtration systems, addressing the essential and universal need for safe drinking water.
  3. Energy Efficiency in Home Appliances: With rising energy costs and environmental concerns, creating energy-efficient appliances has become unavoidable. Brands like Whirlpool and GE focus on developing appliances that conserve energy, catering to this persistent requirement.

Unworkable and Underserved Jobs-to-Be-Done

Perspective: Existing Solutions for Jobs

Commonality: The key link between unworkable and underserved jobs is the inadequacy of existing solutions. Whether it’s about improving efficiency and user experience (unworkable) or addressing the needs of specific market segments that current solutions fail to cater to adequately (underserved), the focus is on enhancing or creating solutions that better meet user needs.

Unworkable Jobs:

Highlight inefficiencies, inadequacies, or frustrations with current solutions. These jobs are characterized by the gap between what users need and what current solutions offer, often due to inefficiency or complexity.

Key Words: Inefficient, Frustrating, Complex


  • Inefficiency or Inadequacy: These jobs are currently addressed in ways that are inefficient, causing frustration or dissatisfaction.
  • Frustration with Current State: These jobs are marked by a general consensus that existing solutions don’t meet expectations, leading to dissatisfaction or the need for “hacks” and workarounds.
  • Gap in Existing Solutions: There is a clear gap between what is needed and what current solutions offer, often highlighted by the need for workarounds or compromises.
  • Visible Inefficiency or Complexity: The process or solution currently in use is noticeably cumbersome, time-consuming, or requires excessive effort relative to the outcome achieved.
  • Opportunity for Redesign or Improvement: There’s a potential for dramatic improvement or innovation by rethinking how the job is done, making the process more efficient, satisfying, or effective.
  • Potential for Innovation Recognition: There is a clear vision that reimagining or reengineering the approach could significantly enhance performance, satisfaction, or outcome.

Contextual Clue: When you observe widespread complaints, inefficiencies, or makeshift solutions within a certain task or process, you’re likely looking at an unworkable job.


  1. Project Management Software: Traditional methods of project management can be inefficient and complex. Tools like Asana and Trello simplify project tracking and team collaboration, making project management less frustrating and more efficient.
  2. Smart Home Devices for Energy Management: Managing home energy consumption using traditional methods can be complex and inefficient. Smart thermostats like Nest automate and optimize home heating and cooling, addressing these frustrations.
  3. Online Legal Services: Legal processes can be notoriously complex and inaccessible. Platforms like LegalZoom simplify creating legal documents and accessing legal advice, making these tasks less complex and frustrating.

Underserved Jobs:

Refer to needs that are not fully met by existing products or services. These jobs are often specific to niche segments of the market or particular scenarios that mainstream solutions overlook.

Key Words: Neglected, Specific, Unmet


  • Lack of Adequate Solutions: These jobs are not fully met by existing products or services, leaving a segment of the market without suitable options.
  • Niche or Specialized Needs: These jobs cater to specific interests, conditions, or preferences that mainstream solutions fail to adequately address. The needs may be specific to a particular group, scenario, or condition that mainstream solutions overlook.
  • Opportunity for Tailored Solutions: There’s a clear opportunity to innovate by creating solutions that specifically address the nuances and requirements of the underserved jobs, often leading to strong customer loyalty and market differentiation.
  • Lack of Visibility or Voice: The needs might be well-known within a community but overlooked by larger markets or providers due to perceived size or profitability concerns.
  • Opportunity for Deep Connection: Solutions that effectively meet underserved jobs can create strong brand loyalty and advocacy, as they fulfill needs that have been historically neglected.

Contextual Clue: When a segment of the market expresses persistent dissatisfaction with the available options or seems to be making do with solutions not designed for their specific needs, those are underserved jobs.


  1. Clothing for People with Disabilities: Adaptive clothing lines, such as those offered by Tommy Hilfiger Adaptive, cater to the specific, previously neglected needs of individuals with disabilities, providing easier-to-use clothing options.
  2. Financial Services for the Underbanked: Services like Chime and Paytm offer banking and financial services targeting individuals who are underserved by traditional banks, addressing specific financial needs that are unmet by mainstream services.
  3. Educational Resources for Special Needs: Platforms like Khan Academy and specialized tools offer tailored educational resources for students with learning disabilities, addressing a specific and previously unmet need for inclusive education.

Identifying Innovation Opportunities

1. Listen to Your Customers

The first step in leveraging the 4U framework is to actively listen to your customers or potential users. Customer feedback, surveys, and direct observations are gold mines for uncovering Unavoidable, Urgent, Unworkable, and Underserved jobs. Look for repeated complaints, expressions of frustration, or wishes for better solutions as indicators.

2. Analyze Market Trends

Stay abreast of industry trends and shifts. Regulatory changes, technological advancements, and evolving consumer preferences can reveal Unavoidable and Urgent jobs. For instance, a new regulation might create an unavoidable need for compliance tools, while a sudden market shift could make a previously unnoticed need become urgent.

3. Examine Existing Solutions

For Unworkable and Underserved jobs, take a close look at the current solutions in the market. Identify where users are making compromises or using workarounds, indicating that the existing products or services are not fully meeting their needs. This scrutiny can reveal significant opportunities for innovation.

4. Segment Your Audience

Different segments of your audience may have unique needs. By segmenting your audience, you can uncover Underserved jobs specific to certain groups. This approach is particularly effective in identifying niche markets that mainstream solutions have overlooked.

Putting It All Together

Once you’ve identified potential opportunities within the 4U categories, prioritize them based on your resources, expertise, and market potential. Not all identified needs will be viable for your situation, but prioritizing allows you to focus on those with the highest impact.

Developing Solutions

With a clear understanding of the Unavoidable, Urgent, Unworkable, and Underserved jobs, begin brainstorming and developing solutions. Keep the user at the center of your innovation process, and consider iterative development and feedback loops to refine your offerings.


The 4U framework (Unavoidable, Urgent, Unworkable, and Underserved) offers a powerful tool for identifying innovation opportunities by focusing on the intrinsic needs and frustrations of users. By systematically exploring Unavoidable, Urgent, Unworkable, and Underserved jobs, you can uncover areas ripe for innovation that others might overlook. Remember, the key to successful innovation is not just in identifying these opportunities but in effectively addressing them with thoughtful, user-centered solutions. Happy innovating!