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Adoption Over Innovation

There is so much written about the need for more innovation in America and that innovation needs to be the engine that will drive recovery and growth. True innovation is always needed but history can illustrate that it is not the lack of innovation that holds us back but the adoption of innovation.

The New York Times ran an article on May 25, 2010 entitled “The New Touch-Face of Vending Machines” about all the flashy new vending machines around the world and what they’re capable of selling. It made me think back to a project in the late 1980s which was all about exploiting the innovation available through vending machines. This in turn got me thinking about a project for IBM also in the late 80s to commercialize touch screen technology. I remember going to IBM’s Boca Raton labs and using a tablet computer. Maybe it was not as advanced or fancy as the iPad but considering the fact that was 20 years ago, not that far off.

About the same time we were doing an assignment for MasterCard, “The Future of Credit Cards”. It was at a time when decisions had to be made regarding the use digital technology to verify and transmit charges. Remember back when a store had to run your credit card over a machine and make an imprint that they would then send in to the bank for processing. Moving to magnetic stripe technology would allow for major cost savings and efficiency improvements but we thought why not leapfrog all of that and go to another available technology — biometrics. Why carry plastic when your fingerprint is both unique and with you all the time. Or if plastic was such an important bridge why not embedded chips? MasterCard’s PayPass and Visa’s payWave are still fighting for adoption even though they contain a decades-old technology and offer significant benefits to both the consumer and merchant. And by the way, have been commercially available for years in other countries.

In the mid80s we were commissioned by Kodak to map out the Future of Photography. One of the findings was that by the mid90s, silver halide film would be a relic and digital photography would have 90% share of pictures taken. Our recommendation was simple, own “Kodak Moments” not how images are captured. Kodak also asked their Advertising Agency to independently do the same project. They came to the same conclusion although they thought the transformation would happen faster. We were both right about the transition but wrong about how quickly it would happen by almost a decade.

Recently we were subjected to an agonizing debate about health care costs and availability. These are two very different issues and unfortunately in the debate the cost component seems to have been lost. Again decades-old technology, proven technology and innovation if adopted by hospitals and doctors would significantly decrease the cost of medical care never mind improve the quality of that care – the use of digitized records. Records that could be carried on a chip embedded in your insurance card. The military has been “testing” such a system for decades.

It is clear that we have more next generation technology than we know what to do with. And technology is not the answer to every problem but it is a start. So what is the problem? The facts point directly to risk avoidance. There is fear on the part of business to commercialization innovations (risk) and of consumers to be willing to adopt new and better ways to meet their needs and wants. Based on my research, it is far more that businesses are afraid of potentially disturbing what they believe to be a predictable revenue stream. This is real until someone not reliant to that revenue stream decides to enter “their” market.

There are role models out there that taking the risks will pay off. The poster child is Apple. Not one of their innovations, iPods to iPhones to iPads, utilizes new technology. What they have been willing to do is reinvent that technology in a far easier to use form with superior design and functionality. While that might be considered a form of innovation it shows a focus on what is required to gain adoption. In the simplest terms not new but better. When they do, it breaks down the consumers adoption aversion and a win win success story is born.

Another example is the recent success by Ford. While there are many moving parts to why Ford has succeeded (or at least hasn’t gotten in as much trouble as the other car companies) one key component is their making it easier for consumers to adopt the use of technology through their joint venture with Microsoft through Sync. The application of existing (old) technology as a point of difference and suggesting to consumers a higher tech car will be a better investment (more fun to drive.)

How do we change the dynamic so adoption is seen as a benefit? Maybe a place to start is to determine who within an organization “owns” getting the idea adopted. Simple answer would be the person responsible of marketing. Many “experts” having written volumes that for a company to succeed the “brand owner” (or chief marketing person) has to be the CEO or at least someone totally empowered by the CEO. Would any one dispute that Steve Jobs is the brand owner of all things Apple? And yes, Apple has a person who heads worldwide marketing.

You only need to look through the executive teams for the answer. Most small entrepreneurial or start up companies don’t even have someone with a marketing skill set – knowledge and tools to drive adoption. Having worked with many getting a dollar to confirm the basic premise of the business (ability to generate trial) is near impossible. Millions get spent on building the idea but nothing to be sure that people will actually buy it. A long time mentor has a cliché which says it all – beware of falling in love in a dark bar. This problem is not unique to small companies. Managers do not focused on adoption, they fall in love with an idea in a dark bar.

As the folks at Nike would say, “Just Do It!”
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Comments

Comment from Scottie Polintan
Time July 15, 2011 at 4:19 am

It’s hard to dig up knowledgeable people on this thread, but you look like you know what you’re talking about! Thank you

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