Everybody talks about innovation. It occurred to me that in contrast, relatively little attention is spent on adoption. (Assuming it’s not just me. 😉 ) 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.
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!