Why Chuck E. Cheese's and the Art Museum Should Compete: Understanding the Jobs to Be Won™ of Leisure Time


When Winter Break approaches, many of us have a few days off. How will we spend this time? Go to an indoor water park? Check out an exhibit at the art museum? Binge on Netflix? The answer, of course, depends on various factors: whether we are alone, have kids to entertain, or have relatives in town. Decisions about leisure activities are often based on our life situations and the mood state we’re in, which motivate us to act in certain ways. We “hire” activities and destinations to do “jobs” for us in a given situation—those organizations that understand this are more likely to get our time and dollars.

Jobs are not simply functional—we don’t hire Chuck E. Cheese’s to eat terrible pizza and play skee-ball (well, maybe the skee-ball). On a deeper level, we might hire this semi-lovable, ragtag establishment to feel young again or to be fun parents or any number of reasons. To do the same jobs, we might also hire bowling or sledding. For companies playing in the leisure space, understanding what jobs people are seeking to fulfill in their leisure time; what jobs their establishment fulfills; and which jobs they aren’t currently being hired to do but should be, is critical to growth.

To help companies make sense of the leisure space, our team at Halverson Group conducted a study called “Competing with the Couch: The Jobs to Be Won™ of Leisure Time.” For this study, we focused closely on the situations in people’s lives that motivate them to turn to different activities and the deeper reasons why people hire any leisure activity, from the aforementioned cheesy arcade to a movie to a museum. We learned that there are hundreds of motivations behind people’s leisure choices, from “I want to feel sophisticated” to “I want to create a tradition” to “I want to act like a kid again,” and so on. Through sophisticated analyses, we boiled these motivations down to eight core “jobs,”  from “Outdoor Escape” to “Pure Fun,” that leisure activities do for people:

Halverson Group's map of the Jobs of Leisure™

By looking at all the jobs of leisure, one can see that there is no reason why destinations should limit themselves to what is normally considered their immediate competition. There may actually be situations when people would consider seemingly opposing activities to fulfill the same job. In a past engagement with the Indianapolis Museum of Art (IMA), we helped the museum broaden its audience by seeing precisely this fact.

At the time of our engagement, the IMA was firmly anchored in fulfilling the job of “Purposeful Pause” and that was where its members liked it. But through our study, we learned that “Purposeful Pause” only makes up a small percentage of what people seek from their leisure time in a given year. What if the IMA pushed into another job that is hired more often, and could attract new audiences? The IMA did just that, expanding into the more frequently hired “Purposeful Play” space by creating a mini-golf course on its grounds with holes designed by local artists. This new initiative allowed the museum to keep its core audience by fulfilling their desired job, while simultaneously stealing visits away from, for example, the zoo (another destination that fulfills Purposeful Play).

Following that up with its Winter Solstice celebration, the IMA edged in on the job of “Pure Fun,” competing with other destinations that attract families who want to unplug and appreciate the lighter side of life. The larger point is, by understanding the jobs to be done in people’s lives, the IMA won new jobs—a lesson that others in the leisure space can take away as well. Now, let’s go back to Chuck E. Cheese’s for a moment. If a museum, too, has the potential to fulfill the job of “Pure Fun,” then it looks like Chuck E. could theoretically have some new, unexpected competition.

Leisure activities have many jobs to do for people. What job will your destination be doing this season? In the coming year? And which jobs could it win in the future? Before you start planning new initiatives, think about the real job you are performing in people’s lives. Think about how you can create better experiences that meet people on a deeper level, making their precious leisure time truly memorable and enjoyable. That is, after all, your job. And, if you do it right, you will get hired again and again.