Recently I have been reading the book Diffusion of Innovation written by Everett Rogers. The book is not new and is the foundation to Geoffery Moores Crossing the Chasm (which I liked allot) as well as the Technology Application Lifecycle. In reading this book, I am struck by the universal forces at work when it relates to adoption new ideas. I find this particularly valuable when considering innovations surrounding social media and the constant barrage of new tools and services we as users experience.
According to Rogers,
Many technologies think that advantageous innovations will sell themselves, that the obvious benefits of a new idea will be widely realized by potential adopters, and that the innovation will therefor diffuse rapidly. Unfortunately this is seldom the case. Most innovations in fact diffuse at a surprisingly slow rate - Diffusion of Innovation p 15.
The book looks at innovation adoption from an anthropological approach. He suggests that innovations spread is based on psychology and sociology rather then the intrinsic values of the innovation itself. Technology prowess plays a much smaller roll in innovation diffusion then we may think.
Rogers identifies 5 factors that define how quickly innovations spread.
1. Relative Advantage: What value does the new thing have in comparison to the old solution. This the perceived value of the innovation based on the potential customer. This is not the perception of the inventor but of the consumer. Perceived advantage is often based on psychology, economics, prestige and fashion.
2. Compatibility: How much effort is required to transition from the current situation to the innovation. If the cost of transition is greater then the percieved advantage few will try the innovation. Put in another term, the switching cost is greater then the advantage.
3. Complexity: How much learning is required to apply to understanding the new innovation. Imagine if a modern solar powered smart phone was dropped into 9th century England. I can say that the adoption would be 0% as the jump in complexity is too great and lead to fear.
4. Trialability: How easy is it to try the innovation ? Teabags were first used so people could try differnt sorts of teas without buying a large tin. This substantially improved the trialability of brewed tea. (Joel Levy)
5. Observability: How visible are the results of the innovation ? The more visible the faster the rate of adoption. This is especially true of adoption within social groups. Many technologies that have limited observability
This list is a scorecard for learning from past innovations as well as a guide to improving diffusing of innovation today. The key is to integrate these factors into the innovations from the start instead of pasting them on technology at the end.
Innovations are good only if people can use them.