A great primer on the diffusion of innovation

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I Should Have Majored In Psychology:
[Via Chuck’s Blog]

Way back when, I thought it useful to do two courses of study. I wanted that CS (computer science) degree, but the whole topic, while fascinating, seemed so self-contained.

At the time, I thought adding coursework in economics was the right thing to do. Even way back in the late 1970s (yes, I’m that old), I could see the two interweaving in very interesting ways.

I was wrong. I should have chosen to add in psychology rather than economics.

Because — at the end of the day — I’m finding that success with technology has more to do with how people perceive things rather than the hard facts we all work with every day.

Ever Rolled Out A Big IT Project?

I have. Several times, as a matter of fact. And — each time — I spent an inordinate amount of time lining up approval and support for what I was proposing to do.

The least of my problems was making sure the darn stuff worked as expected. My most daunting challenge was usually changing perceptions with hundreds — sometimes thousands — of people who had a vested stake in the outcome.

If you work in IT, you’ve probably come to the same conclusion — the technology will probably be ready far in advance of people’s willingness to embrace it.

Accelerating Change Creates Value

I’m not just talking about IT here — I’m talking about any leadership role in a large organization. To create unique value, we have to change the way we do things. The faster we can change and adapt, the more value we create for our organization and our stakeholders.

And — more often than not — it’s people’s perceptions that stand between where we are — and where we’d all like to be.

A while back, I was chatting with people who put together MBA coursework. Since I tend to work with freshly minted MBAs here at EMC, they wanted to know what I found missing.

My answer was pretty clear: they need at least some sort of background in behavior psychology if they expected to be successful in any organization.

After all, organizations are nothing more than collections of people.

And If You’re In Marketing

I don’t see how anyone could be successful in any form of marketing these days without a deep and empathetic understanding of the human psyche, and how it manifests itself in your target audience.

Yes, showing ROI and “business value” is essential. But I’d offer that’s just table stakes. There’s so much good technology out there today that there are many ways to solve a given enterprise IT requirement.

Worse, when we as vendors come up with something new and interesting (as is frequently the case at EMC) but is a departure from conventional thinking, it takes an inordinate amount of time to get people comfortable with the new approach.

People will often say things like “well, we need time for the technology to mature”. Fair enough. But more often, I’m thinking it’s less about the technology, and more about time needed to have perceptions change.

One of the most frustrating recent examples for me personally was enterprise flash drives. EMC launched them at the beginning of 2008. They worked absolutely perfectly at the time. But adoption was slow, mostly because it was an entirely new idea.

Adoption started to pick up dramatically during 2009. Not because the technology was any better — it was simply that people had gotten more comfortable with the concept.

Since EMC’s business model involves investing a lot in new and disruptive technologies, this inherent psychological barrier to “something new” is often front-and-center in my mind.


Read the whole thing. This is a great discussion by someone on the ground, detailing ow hard it can be to get people to adapt to new technology.

Different organizations have different rates that innovation diffuses through them. Many do absolutely nothing to facilitate this diffusion in any way. It just happens by essentially ad hoc means.

I’ve written about how change and innovations traverse a community. A better way to facilitate such things is to put disruptive innovators and mediating early-adopters in place to evaluate new technologies. That is what they are really good at and actually enjoy. If they see the value, especially the mediators, they can often speed up the rate the new technology diffuses.

Usually, however, the people in this position are from the middle, the Doers, who really do not like the uncertainty and disruptive effects on their workflow by the introduction of novelty. They are the most hesitant to accept innovation unless informed by the relevant mediators.

But, the organizations that understand human social behavior, that put the right people in the right spots to actually evaluate and evangelize new technologies in a community, will be the ones that succeed. They will not only be able to leverage new technology faster, they will be more resilient and able to deal with failure.

Because, after all, failure is just another change. and organization that deals well with change will have little to fear from failure because it knows that is a faster route to success.

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