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Everybody talks about innovation. It occurred to me that in contrast, relatively little attention is spent on adoption. (Assuming it’s not just me. ๐Ÿ˜‰ ) So let’s discuss adoption for a moment.

A cultural bias in favor of innovation vs. adoption

Adoption is the process by which innovations are implemented and spread through cultures. It is the flip side of innovation: By definition (I’ll spare you a definition of “innovation” – the Edison story and all that have been all over SCN many times), no innovation can occur without adoption.

Fig. 1: The diffusion of ideas according to Rogers (1962)

We, as members of a technology-oriented community, tend to be makers (developers: programmers, architects, designers, etc.) or otherwise closely involved in the creation process. Perhaps that explains an unspoken element of our work ethics: that it is more honorable to build something than it is to use something somebody else has built. We gain more status points by building something that others use, and less by using something that others have built. (Think of status and reputation in the Open Source community.) Nobody achieves the kind of rock star status of people like Thomas Jung, Daniel McWeeney, Ed Herrmann, and Gregor Wolf by merely adopting somebody else’s innovation and claiming: “I didn’t even add a touch to it!” This is also an important reason for the “Not invented here” syndrome.

Embracing your inner adopter

When we do find ourselves in the role of the user, we try to turn the tables: “Yes, I’m using the thing you built – but is there an API? I want to use it… to build something for others to use.” In the software world, the lines between creators and users, between innovators and adopters, are often blurred. For example, as far as HANA is concerned, as much as I’d love to be one of the innovators who invented this fascinating piece of software, I am merely an adopter: someone who sees the benefits of the thing and drives its implementation. However, I also use it to build new shiny things. I find myself in both roles: adopter and innovator. The same is true for the majority of the people in the SCN community. However, I’ve noted that in our self-image, we tend to focus on the innovator role and not discuss the adopter role, for the reasons outlined above. To say it in a slightly tongue-in-cheek way, it’s time that we embrace our inner adopter, and gain a better understanding of what it means to be an adopter.

Fig. 2: Give your inner adopter a hug

Theory of adoption

Given that innovation is important, and that innovation cannot be one iota more powerful or successful than the adoption (or “diffusion”, when it refers to more than one person) process going along with it, I think we, as a community, should deepen our understanding of this process. It has been scientifically researched for many years and there is a great body of knowledge to build upon (if we’re not afraid to adopt it).

A great starting point is the Wikipedia article on the Diffusion of Innovations, which outlines a theory by Everett Rogers on how innovation spreads through social systems. It lists the different types of adopters (innovators, early adopters, early majority, late majority, laggards) and describes their characteristics. Interesting details have been found out about them, such as correlations with socioeconomic status, education, and behavior pattern with respect to innovations.

Fig. 3: Stages of adoption

Looking at the innovations, they can be described in terms of the characteristics that aid or hinder their adoption: relative advantage, compatibility, complexity or simplicity, trialability, and observability.

There are references to research on innovations that failed, and the sociological causes for these failures – certainly an interesting facet of the ongoing discussion about IT failures driven, among others, by the fabulous The specified item was not found..

And the very next paragraph (“Heterophily and communication channels”), even though it uses different words, is about how diversity (in SAP circles typically discussed in the context of Design Thinking – shoutout to Moya Watson and Heike van Geel! – as a driving factor for innovation) and affinity to diversity impact the success of the spreading of an innovation. Which goes to prove the point that learning about adoption is instrumental to connecting the dots and seeing the whole picture of the innovation and adoption process.

Bottom line

Innovation requires adoption – and it requires an understanding of adoption. This is an important, and often overlooked, aspect of innovation for the SAP community to study and discuss. It connects with many topics that are already in the spotlight of attention: Failure, Diversity, Design Thinking, Culture, and Empathy. Even Disruption. Stage free for Adoption!

Fig. 4: Stage free for Adoption!

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13 Comments

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  1. Tammy Powlas

    Your story about adoption reminds me of the older SAP ASAP methodology which said you need a “change management” methodology and “organizational” change.

    My first ever SAP project (1997-98) there was a big focus on that.  Did it work?  I am not sure.  Subsequent projects I have seen less and less discussion of this.

    Adoption is important and should be key to any successful project planning (goes without saying) but it is good to see blogs like yours discuss this.

    “Adapt, adopt or ____” (fill in the blank)

    Regards,

    Tammy

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    1. Steve Rumsby

      You’re right when you say we’re all both adopters and innovators. As much as I’d also love to be part of a team doing something new like HANA, I’m not. As much as I’d love to be part of a team adopting the latest and greatest products from SAP and elsewhere and doing something innovative with them, I’m not. I work at a customer site where things move more slowly. I’m only just starting to teach myself WebDynpro programming ๐Ÿ™‚ I’m most definitely an adopter, and probably a laggard at that. But still, most of the things I do are innovative within my organisation. And that’s still exciting. I tell myself…

      I wonder if those of us at the coalface have a slightly better appreciation of the stages of adoption, since we see them in action day after day? I know that to get anything new to happen on a large scale here I have to start small. Build a proof-of-concept, get the early adopters interested and get them to spread the word. Adoption doesn’t happen quickly, or easily. There must be techniques people use to speed up adoption. I’d love to hear about them!

      Thanks for starting this off Thorsten.

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  2. Tom Van Doorslaer

    Love the cat picture!

    and you managed to touch yet an other important and frequently overlooked aspect of our lives as IT-specialists.

    Ever since I heard about design thinking, I figured that it was a lot about adoption, and less about innovation.

    By collaborating with the people who will eventually use whatever you come up with, you essentially ensure that they will adopt whatever comes out of the process, because they were part of creating it.

    Design thinking gives you the opportunity to innovate, whilst being assured (more or less) of adoption.

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  3. Margaret A Hilsbos

    Your blog raises an important point. Here’s another facet; there’s a cost to the emphasis on “innovation” over “adoption” at least when “innovation” means (as it usually seems to) building something new rather than fully exploiting the capabilities of existing applications. It is almost always cheaper to tweak the existing (assuming it starts out reasonably close to what you need) than to build a complex new application from the ground up. Plus, leveraging existing applications means it is easier (thus cheaper) to find support resources (a point also raised in the blog linked to by Uwe). There’s a reason we call the “leading edge” the “bleeding edge”.

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  4. Susan Keohan

    Thorsten, as usual, your blogs make me think (really hard!)

    I think Steve Rumsby has said all I could, and better too.

    We customers have to learn to be adopters and love it. And within our ivory towers (academic reference!) we can be considered innovators too.

    Cheers,
    Sue

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  5. Moya Watson

    In case everyone was not yet aware, Thorsten and I are psychically joined:

    Inside (and outside) any aging enterprise, we think and talk a lot about innovation, but bringing it to adoption, as you note, can be an entirely different thing, much less bringing it to productization.  In the end, I tend to abide by Marissa Mayer’s axiom from her original “Google’s Ideas About Innovation” — “Share everything you can.”    To me, ideas are like colds — nobody knows where the original one started and everyone catches everyone else’s.  Tim Berners-Lee just happened to invent the Web, but even he says it resulted from countless years, conversations, connections, and people.

    But it really all does come down to the cats, doesn’t it?  I’m about to publish a piece that proves this very axiom.

    Thanks for another masterpiece in food for thought, Thorsten.

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  6. Seung Chan Lim

    Nice post, Thorsten! It reminds me of the acronym “MAYA” coined by the late industrial designer Raymond Loewy.

    The acronym stands for “Most Advanced Yet Acceptable.” The basic idea is that if something is too advanced, it won’t be accepted (or adopted, to use your word), if it’s not advanced enough it won’t be any better than what is already there. To find that sweet spot was Raymond Loewy’s mantra in product design.

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  7. Martin English

    Hi everyone,

    I came for the cats, stayed for the conversation ๐Ÿ™‚

    This touches on an article I saw by John Moy on another site.  The key conenction is….

    But outside the walls of SAP’s R&D labs and software development centers, outside the SAP-sponsored conferences promoting new innovations and products, there are SAP ERP systems stagnating.  How did we get here?

    John Moy, on Diginomica

    The point is that there are a lot of pressures both within SAP customers and the organisations serving them that mitigate against innovation or even adoption of someone else’s innovation – I heard last week about a local branch of an SI who quoted $AUD2 Million to replicate some of the functionality of Netweaver Gateway. You can’t blame the SI for taking the money if the customer accepted… After all SI’s aren’t charities, they’re in the money making business.

    One of the problems with being a regular on SCN and at the SAP conferences is that you find yourself surrounded by clever people and companies doing clever things with the latest hardware and software. And if you and your company aren’t innovating and adopting as fast as them, you feel left behind.  But the reality is that there are companies still running R/3 2.2 or 3.1 systems (or even R/2 systems). Whether these are the result of  business decisions, made at regular intervals with appropriate cost justification and ROI numbers, or the result of being left in the too hard basket, probably varies from case to case. But in each case it was down to an individual… someone said “lets stay on 4.6C because we don’t have to pay support any more..”, or someone said “the business has more important things to worry about”.  As a curious and motivatedn SAP professional, you can hit your head against the brick wall, or go work with someone with imagination ๐Ÿ™‚

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    1. Steve Rumsby

      One of the downsides of going to  SAP conferences is coming home and realising you aren’t going to be able to do anything with all the fancy new stuff you’ve just seen. I believe the official medical term for this is “Post TechEd Blues” ๐Ÿ™‚

      As somebody who works at a customer quite some way from the bleeding edge (we just upgraded from 4.7 to ERP6 in March), I understand some of the business reasons behind deciding to be a laggard and I get frustrated by others. There are two ways I can react. One is, as Martin suggests, to run away to an organisation with more imagination (or with deeper pockets, or who is less risk averse, or…). The other is to stay and try to spread some imagination (not a lot I can do about the depth of the pockets, but maybe about priorities). After all, if everyone runs away from the laggards, how will they ever move forward? Yes, it is probably more frustrating, but it can also be satisfying to see change happen even if it is at a glacial pace.

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      1. Susan Keohan

        Hey Steve, just a small correction.  It’s Post-SAP-Teched-Withdrawal or PSTW.  There was a Wikipedia definition at one time, but many people will be familiar with it.

        ‘When returning from an SAP TechEd conference, the feeling of withdrawal from all the good tech to all the good people, and the realization you might have to wait another year for another dose’.

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  8. Martin Lang

    Yet another super thought-provoking blog Thorsten, thanks a ton!

    Arguably Adoption within the larger context of Business Process innovation needs to be a clear goal as essentially adoption translates into impact and impact/making a difference is ultimately what it’s all about.

    Without the focus on adoption we can still build cool and impressive things but they may often be like a flash in the pan (Strohfeuer), and not have long lasting valuable impact.

    Solid adoption is what makes the difference.

    Your blog resonated and continues to resonate with me very well, wouldn’t be surprised to have some good adoption related discussions in Orlando as well.

    Also I think it’s kind of related to Vijay’s recent post reflecting on the search for the HANA killer app: http://andvijaysays.wordpress.com/2013/05/10/sap-hana-and-the-killer-app-problem/ In my mind it’s mostly adoption within the target user group, that “makes’ an app a killer app.

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  9. Michael Koegel

    Interesting thoughts.

    Innovation without adoption is just invention, but a lot of communication uses the terms interchangeable.

    In Design Thinking we often look for extreme users to get insights. The Laggards aka non-users are usually a very good source of inspiration. Find out why they don’t use your product or service and how they solve the same problem today without your help and you’ll be able to design for better adoption.

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