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Saturday, 28 May 2016

Inventors And Innovators Need to Cross The Chasm, Part 2

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First of all, I wish to apologise to my readers for having forgotten to update this blog for nearly a month. I wasn't really sure how to present the idea of "the chasm". So I was stuck in "analysis paralysis" for a while, thinking of how to start this article. And just by typing those few words, I've started the article. Problem solved.

That brings us to....

The Chasm, Explained in Easy-To-Understand Terms

To understand the chasm, we need to first get into a concept known as the diffusion of innovation, a concept proposed by the late Professor Everett Rogers in his book, Diffusion of Innovations (1962). Here, have a look at this image:

The Diffusion of Innovation Model, from

The diffusion of innovation is a concept which holds that technology is diffused slowly in society, and almost always initially by the innovators (2.5%). These innovators help to evangelize and popularize the technology to the early adopters (13.5%). By the way, these percentages describe the total user base.

Then comes the time when the technology comes into the mainstream. The early majority come in, forming 34% of the user base, followed by the late majority, also forming 34%. 

When the technology has become so pervasive, the last group in society to adopt it will be called the laggards, forming 16% of the user base.

There is only one problem with the diffusion of innovation model, and that is, it assumes that new technology will always be adopted by all sectors of society. The graph above seems to say, "Whatever the product, you will adopt it. It just depends on where you stand."

As we know, there are many new products that never get adopted in a widespread manner. Some of them might be used by the geeky, nerdy group who form the innovators, who are by nature pretty gung-ho and willing to give anything a go. But these early users might not be generating enough revenue for the inventor/manufacturer. It's only a matter of time before the inventor/manufacturer will be forced to closed down...

In 1991, Geoffrey Moore published his book, Crossing the Chasm, which proposed a "chasm" within the diffusion of innovations model. Here, look at this picture:

The technology adoption lifecycle, showing "the chasm" proposed by Geoffrey Moore. Image from UPenn @ Canvas.

The "chasm" is applicable to technology-based industries, especially disruptive technologies. Here is an explanation from Wikipedia:

Crossing the Chasm is closely related to the technology adoption lifecycle where five main segments are recognized: innovators, early adopters, early majority, late majority and laggards. According to Moore, the marketer should focus on one group of customers at a time, using each group as a base for marketing to the next group. The most difficult step is making the transition between visionaries (early adopters) and pragmatists (early majority). This is the chasm that he refers to. If a successful firm can create a bandwagon effect in which enough momentum builds, then the product becomes a de facto standard. However, Moore's theories are only applicable for disruptive or discontinuous innovations. Adoption of continuous innovations (that do not force a significant change of behavior by the customer) are still best described by the original technology adoption lifecycle.

And when you think of it, it seems kind of true. Think about early innovations that never really "caught on". I can think of some:
  1. Sony's DAT (Digital Audio Tapes), which appeared in the 1980s - These could record audio at CD quality or higher. But due to some serious lobbying by the RIAA in the USA, legal hurdles were enacted, which effectively limited the use of DAT in the recording industry. Thankfully, the DAT became widely used in computer backups.
  2. Supersonic passenger jets, which were retired in 2003 -- These were able to bring you from London to New York in less than 3 hours, yet the maintenance costs and ticket prices made it difficult to maintain operations.
  3. Monowheel motorbikes -- These look pretty cool, and can be described as a big wheel with a man riding in the middle, as though a hamster had taken charge of a hamster's wheel and used it for transportation. I followed some fascinating reading on the M Goventosa monowheel over at Hemmings Daily. And I'm now posting some fascinating photos of the monowheel from Hemmings Daily, just because they look so cool.
Photo from Hemmings Daily (2010)

Photo from Hemmings Daily (2010)

How to apply the Concept of the Chasm ?

The question is basically, how do you avoid the chasm, and reach your early majority user base? The target for people in the technology sector, or those selling new technology, should be to become the dominant design. When a technology is still new, the forms of products that embody the technology are still uncertain, because there are no clear market leaders yet. All sorts of players jump into the fray with their own offerings at this nascent stage. Over time, as the industry matures, certain "designs" find favour with the users. Eventually, a "dominant design" emerges. 

Think of the MP3 player industry, and how Apple's iPod came to become the preferred embodiment, with its single dial and a screen to display data about the songs. Think about how numerous mobile phone makers now seem to copy the iPhone's designs: A screen without buttons, but capable of presenting buttons through an electronic display. And in terms of user interface, think about how operating systems tend to evolve over time so that they begin to mirror each other in terms of usability, aesthetics, window behaviour and even placement of buttons. Think about how offline software is beginning to become like web software, and incorporating Ajax-like features, which is a complete reversal of how online software began by trying to copy offline software. 

You, the innovator/inventor of new technology and new offerings, must protect your innovation through patent claims: This is true. But the way your technology is presented is not bound by your patent claims. This is why we patent drafters include illustrations, and describe prototypes, by calling them "preferred embodiment". It's just saying to the patent examiner, "This is a patent, and it illustrates how my client's invention can be deployed, but really, if necessary, we could make it in some other form -- within the confines of our patent's claims."

Back to the concept of avoiding the chasm, here's a few actionable suggestions for the next Steve Jobs (wannabe):

  1. Make a prototype, and then reiterate quickly. Because you want to spend as little money on making mistakes, it would do you well to come up with a simple prototype, and then start finding out how it can be improved. What do your users think the product lacks? What flaws do they see in it? How could it be improved? Incorporate all these comments into your next iteration, and reiterate. Improve your product. Try to lower costs by sourcing for cheaper materials. Try to make it better, more stylish. Ask people if they would consider using it. There's a certain book that I read some time back, "Inside Real Innovation", which said that reiteration is the key to successful innovation. 
  2. Consider pivoting. Those entrepreneurs who come from the Osterwalder / Blank / Ries school of thought will already understand this concept of pivot: If something isn't working out, consider repositioning whatever you have as something else. Related, but not quite alike. Or perhaps, not too alike. That's what you call a pivot. Pivots help young startups to avoid going into deep mistakes, by allowing the entrepreneur / innovator to reposition the technology for some other segment, or some other user base. (Admittedly, "pivots" are used often for software-based startups, but there's no reason why the concept cannot be applied for other areas.)
  3. Raise funds and Kickstart. If you plan to reiterate it quickly, you'll need funds for research and development. These things don't grow on trees. Luckily, these days it's easier to appeal to members of the public for funds. In the old days, people used to attend trade fairs to show off their new technology.... these days, it's not necessary. Websites like Indiegogo and Kickstarter have made it possible for any inventor to offer his invention to early backers at a very reasonable rate. This also helps to validate to prospective financial backers that the product is viable. By the way, raising funds for a new technology company is often very exciting, but you'll likely come across some jargon such as angel investors, series A, series B, mezzanine, and so on. Hopefully there'll be enough space to review them.
  4. Growth hack and get more users. This is undoubtedly the main idea behind this article, and thus, keeping in mind our innovators and early adopters, we can try getting this core group to start using our products through a combination of persuasion, marketing, and smart partnering. This might include offering your product for free or a very cheap rate to certain people when you know that they are social influencers, with an extensive social network. This, too, is a topic in itself.
Needless to say, I've not included patenting the new technology in the above "actionable list", but it should be clear that you should never start marketing a new product without protecting your intellectual property. 

If you have any comments, I'd appreciate it if you'd leave it in the space below. 

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