In my first job in this country, I bought a PC in sub-components because an entire PC would have been a capital purchase (over $10,000). I then wrote a GL application in Lotus123 that reduced the month end closing process from 4.5 days to less than 4 hours, produced every report needed by HQ printed on a dot matrix printer and produced astonishing analysis for plant management that they had been craving. Some of you may not even recognize what I am talking about but trust me, back in the day, it was an astonishing feat. HQ still insisted on getting their hand written entries for another 9 months but I’ll finish that story below. The point I want to make is that I was a leading edge, early adopter of technology. Today I barely use the many features that my luxury car comes packed with, that I have dearly paid for. It is the same with my smart phone (that is more and more like the old joke about military intelligence) – I am probably higher than average (around 10%) at utilizing the total value of the features it comes packed with but probably no higher than 20%. And that is with my current version which is three versions behind. My numbers would obviously fall if I switched so I’ve stopped switching – an economic loss to the phone company and no switching cost to me which is minimal economically but huge hasslely (a new word I just created). Imagine how many other consumer decisions are made like that and you can envision the tremendous economic impact of this issue. They keep introducing newer and newer technology but my adoption rate remains constant or keeps declining, thus pushing me further and further down on the utility curve. How does that make any sense?
Other than age, I cannot point to a single other factor for my steady continuing decline on the utility curve of technological innovation. I know it’s not a lack of interest or affordability. Age is a Predictable and Inevitable factor that SHOULD HAVE and MUST be taken into consideration by the designers of technology because otherwise they are de-selecting a segment of the market at the initial conceptual design phase. I am not trying to shift the blame but my decline on the utility curve of technology innovation has far more to do with the design of the technology than it does with any voluntary action on my part. Clearly, they were not focused on the Adoption of the technology. Their entire focus was on the design and introduction of the technology and their definition of Adoption was limited to the acquisition of the technology by the consumer. I would submit that their definition SHOULD have included at least maintaining the consumer on the same point on the utility curve if not move them higher.
And so it MUST be with ALL design of ALL innovation. We must start with the Adoption question. How will we get it adopted? And the it can be a changed process, changed contract, changed relationship with a supplier (existing or new), changed behaviors in the organization, changed metrics, changed organizational structure – it doesn’t matter what. If we are not starting with that question we will never, ever end up with the results we seek. It. Will. Not. Happen. And if we don’t start with the Adoption question and keep introducing more and more it into the organization, we are actually pushing the organization further and further down the utility curve. And by the way, not only is the organization not adopting the new it but it is also impacting the utilization of the existing it. I know it sounds counter intuitive but at least consider the argument. Coercive forces – threat of unemployment, bonus impact, rules, policies, mandates etc.-have never proven to have worked and some would argue that they actually hinder adoption. Adoption is mostly defined as a voluntary action by the adopter but one that you can facilitate by focusing on the Value Drivers of the adopter. To tie it back together, if you have an aging workforce then your adoption strategy needs to incorporate that Predictable and Inevitable factor.
We all want to depend on the notion of rational thought and behavior driving adoption but we fail to consider that we are the ones who are defining what is rational and what is not. Research and time are clearly pointing us in the exact opposite direction. It’s what the Adopter defines as rational that drives adoption and until we figure that out, we are doomed to introducing more and more it into our organizations, celebrating the introduction of it and then bemoan the fact later that we never got the intended business results. To borrow and modify from the bard or more specifically Cassius “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, But in ourselves, because we designed the lack of results into our it. And that story about HQ still wanting the handwritten entries – clearly I had not yet learned the lessons of adoption and was feeling pretty good about introducing it and depending on rational behavior.