technology-adoption-curve

What Is A Technology Adoption Curve? The Five Stages Of A Technology Adoption Life Cycle

In his book, Crossing the Chasm: Marketing and Selling High-Tech Products to Mainstream Customers, Geoffrey A. Moore highlights a model that tries to dissect and represent the stages of adoption of high-tech products.

More precisely this model goes through five stages. Each of those stages (innovators, early adopters, early majority, late majority, and laggard) has a specific psychographic that makes that group ready to adopt a tech product.

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Why is the technology adoption life cycle useful?

There is a peculiar phase in the life cycle of a high-tech product that Moore calls a “chasm.” This is the phase in which a product is getting used by early adopters, but not yet by an early majority.

In that stage, there is a wide gap between those two psychographic profiles. Indeed, many startups fail because they don’t manage to have the early majority pick up where the early adopters left.

Understanding the technology adoption of a product helps you assess in which stage is a product and when the chasm is close how to fill the gap and allow the early majority to pick up the void left by the early adopters.

That void is created when the early adopters are ready to leave a product which is about to go mainstream. The market is plenty of examples of companies trying to conquer the early majority but failed in doing so, and in the process also lost the enthusiasts that made that product successful in the first place.

What are the stages of a technology adoption life cycle?

The stages of a technology adoption life cycle, it comprises five main psychographic profiles:

  • Innovators
  • Early Adopters
  • Early Majority
  • Late Majority
  • and Laggards

Innovators 

Innovators are the first to take action and adopt a product, even though that might be buggy. Those people are willing to take the risk, and those will be the people ready to help you shape your product when that is not perfect.
As they’re in love with the innovative aspect behind it, they are ready to sustain that. This psychographic profile is all about the innovation itself. As this is sort of a hobby for them, they are ready and willing to take the risk of using something that doesn’t work perfectly, but it has great potential.

Early Adopters 

Early adopters are among those people ready to try out a product at an early stage. They don’t need you to explain why they should use that innovation.
The early adopter has already researched into it, and she is passionate about the innovation behind that, however, while the innovator will adopt the high-tech product for the sake of the innovation behind it.
The early adopter will make an informed buying decision. In that stage, even though the product is only appealing to a small niche of an early adopter, it’s great and ready.
Those early adopters feel different from the early majority. And if you “betray them” they might probably leave you right away. That is where the chasm stands.

Early majority

The early majority is the psychographic profile made of people that will help you “cross the chasm.” Getting traction means making a product appealing to the early majority. Indeed, the early majority is made of more conscious consumers, that look for useful solutions but also beware of possible fads.

Late Majority 

The late majority kicks in only after a product is well established, have a more skeptical approach to technological innovation and feel more comfortable in the adoption only when a product has gone mainstream.

Laggards

Laggards are the last in the technology adoption cycle. While the late majority is skeptical of technological innovation, the laggard is adverse to it.
Thus, unless there is a clear, established an advantage in using a technology those people will hardly become adopters. For some reason, which might be tied to personal or economic aspects, those people are not looking to adopt a technology.

Other factors influencing technological adoption

One of my favorite authors is Jared Diamond, a polymath which knowledge goes beyond books, education or instruction. In fact, Jared Diamond is an ecologist, geographer, biologist, anthropologist.

Whatever you want to label him, the truth is Jared Diamond is just one of the most curious people on earth. As we love to put a label on anything, we get impressed by as many labels one person has. 

However, Jared Diamond has been just a curious person looking for answers to compelling and hard questions about our civilization. The search for those answers has brought him to become an expert in many disciplines. 

In fact, even though he might not know what’s the latest news about Google‘s algorithm update, Apple’s latest product launch or what features the new iPhone has, I believe Jared Diamond is the most equipped person to understand how the technological landscape evolves. Reason being Jared Diamond has been looking at historical trends in thousands of years and dozens of cultures and civilizations.

He’s also lived for short periods throughout his life with small populations, like New Guineans. In his book Guns, Germs & Steel there is an excerpt that tries to explain why western civilizations were so technologically successful and advanced compared to any other population in the world, say New Guinea.

For many in the modern, hyper-technological world, the answer seems trivial. With the advent of the digital world, even more. We love to read and get inspired every day by the incredible stories of geniuses and successful entrepreneurs that are changing the world.

Jared Diamond has a different explanation for how technology evolves and what influences its adoption throughout history, and it has only in part of doing with the ability to make something that works better than what existed before.

Why the heroic theory of invention is flawed

If you read the accounts of many entrepreneurs that have influenced our modern society, those seem to resemble the stories of heroes, geniuses, and original thinkers. In short, if we didn’t have Edison, Watt, Ford, and Carnegie the western world wouldn’t have been so wildly successful. For how much we love this theory, that doesn’t seem to resemble history.

True, those people were in a way ahead of their times. They were geniuses, risk takers and in some cases mavericks. However, were they the only ones able to advance our society? That is not the case.

Assuming those people were isolated geniuses able to come up with the unimaginable; if the culture around hadn’t been able to acknowledge those inventions, we wouldn’t have traces as of now of those discoveries. So what influenced technological adoption?

The four macro patterns of technological adoption

According to Jared Diamond, there are four patterns to look at when looking for technological adoption:

  1. a relative economical advantage with existing technology
  2. social value and prestige
  3. compatibility with vested interests
  4. the ease with which those advantages can be observed

Relative economic advantage with existing technology

The first point seems obvious. In fact, for one technology to win over the other doesn’t have just to be better; but way more effective. To think of a recent example, when Google took off the search industry. When Google got into the search industry, it was not the first player. It was a latecomer. Yet its algorithm, PageRank, was so superior to its competition that it quickly took off.

What’s next?

Social value and prestige

This is less intuitive. In fact, for how much we love to think of ourselves as rational creatures, in reality, we might be way more social than we’re rational. Thus, social value and prestige of a technological innovation play as much a key role in its adoption as its innovative aspects.

Think about Apple’s products. Apple follows a business model which can be defined as a razor and blade business model. In short, the company attracts users on its platform, iTunes or Apple Store by selling music or apps for a convenient price, while selling its iPhones at very high margins.

However, it is undeniable that what makes Apple able to sell its computers and phones at a higher price compared to competitors is the brand the company was able to build over the years. In short, as of the time of this writing, Apple still represents a status quo that makes the company highly profitable.

Compatibility with vested interests

In Jared Diamond‘s book, Germs, Guns & Steel to prove this point he uses the story of the QWERTY keyboard. This is the keyboard most probably you’re using right now on your mobile device or computer. It is called in this way because its first left-most six letters form the name “QWERTY.”

Have you ever wondered why do you use this standard? You might think this has to do with efficiency. But instead, that is the opposite. This standard has been invented at the end of the 1800s when typewriters became the standard.

When typists were typing too fast those (page 248 of Germs, Guns & Steel) typewriters jammed. In short, they came up with a system that was thought to slow down typists so that typewriters wouldn’t get jammed anymore. Yet as the more than a century went by and we started to use computers, and mobile devices instead of switching to a more efficient system we kept the old one. Why?

According to Jared Diamond, the most compelling reason for not being able to switch to a new standard was the vested interests of small lobbies of typists, typing teachers, typewriter and computer salespeople.

The ease with which those advantages can be observed

When a technological advancement can be easily recognized as the fruit of the success of an organization, country or enterprise, it will be adopted by anyone that wants to keep up with it. Think, for instance, about two countries going to war. One of them has a secret weapon that makes them win the war.

As soon as the enemy that lost the battle finds that out, next time that weapon will also be adopted by the losing side. Think also of another more recent example. As big data has become a secret technological weapon used by Obama to win his electoral campaign. So Trump has used it to take over his competitors during the last US political campaign.

Now that we know what are the four macro patterns of technological adoption and how the technology adoption curve might work it might be easier for you to cross the chasm!

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Gennaro Cuofano

Creator of FourWeekMBA.com | Head of Business Development at WordLift.io | International MBA

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