I’ve been wondering a lot lately about the Technology Adoption Lifecycle and Geoffry Moore’s classic Crossing the Chasm. I believe that we are seeing the Chasm obliterated by technology and cultural changes. I see three inter-related trends that are driving this collapse, none of these in and of themselves will surprise any readers, but I think when taken together, there is a compelling argument that the Chasm is collapsing, and smart marketers can speed time to adoption by understanding this dynamic. These trends are 1) The consumerization of technology and its impact on the speed of diffusion 2) the commoditization of the creation and distribution of content and 3) the lower barriers and risks of technology solution adoption.
Before I continue, I do want to note that Crossing the Chasm might be the most dog-eared book in my fairly extensive marketing library. It is a CLASSIC, and has guided much of my thought and practice of marketing over the last 2 decades. It still has tremendous value and incredible teaching and learning in it. The concepts of bowling pins, whole product and positioning are beyond their worth in gold. End of story.
But, I think we need to take a hard look at the chasm today. On page xi of his revised edition of 1999, Moore states: “The Chasm Model itself represents a pattern in market development that is based on the tendency of pragmatic people to adopt new technology when they see other people like them doing the same. This causes them to band together as a group, and the groups initial reaction, like teenagers at a junior high dance, is to hesitate and watch.” Let’s take a little time and dissect this statement.
1) “the tendency of pragmatic people to adopt new technology when they see other people like them doing the same” – Since the Chasm was “discovered” by Moore, technology has infiltrated our lives, as Marc Andreessen says, “software is eating the world.” Early adopters now surround everyone, kids and consumers often lead the way. In addition, the technology continues to get hidden behind better and better and easier and easier user experience. Today’s professionals are more comfortable with and better and faster adopters of technology. From the secretary, to the CEO, from the line worker to the general manager, adoption patterns have compressed and changed. CIOs and Business Managers who wait for “the mainstream” to adopt a solution will quickly find themselves in the late
majority, falling behind competitors.
2) “… This causes them to band together as a group” – Which group? How many affiliations do you have on Linkedin? How many communities do you belong to? What technology did the PTA just adopt that has you thinking, boy, why aren’t we doing that? It used to be information was held by vendors. Customers and buyers depended on information brokers, such as Gartner, IDC and others to get aggregated views of this information. Now they can go to Quora, or LinkedIn, or just plain Google. Vendors now invest FORTUNES in content creation and distribution, because they must inform buyers now, or lose to competitors who do. The group of peers has expanded dramatically and the information available to these groups has become free, available and subject to peer review. One of the main reasons the group effect put brakes on mainstream adoption was the difficulty of obtaining and evaluating vendor claims. We’ve entered the era of transparency and visibility, where the early adopters can more effectively share and make their informed views and experiences real to the mainstream.
3) “…and the groups initial reaction, like teenagers at a junior high dance, is to hesitate and watch” The new reaction is to try at small scale, fail and scale successes. The speed and cost dynamics of the cloud have fundamentally changed the economics of trial and the risk of failure. The risk and fear of failure is now lower than the odds of success and upside.
I still believe in vertical marketing, I still believe in delivering whole products, I still believe in the power of positioning, but I believe the Chasm is closing and will continue to do so. I hope this posts is controversial, and creates a discussion, I expect it will do so! What do you think???
This is a reasonable hypothesis, but as far as I can tell not much has changed. I think everything you said is true, but it's not really about individuals as much as it's about organizational inertia. The majority of adopters are driven by what their organizations are willing to do and frankly that is going to keep the chasm from 'collapsing' in any significant way.
Organizations are made of people, as people's risk profiles, comfort with technology and other factors change, the org follows…I'll be watching this for examples, which I believe are beginning to emerge…We are in year 4 or 5 of a 20 yr changes driven by all of the emerging technology changes…the org of 10 yrs from now will also be very different…
Great post Rutsky, and very thought provoking. In my company, we're aggregating micro-businesses, or “SOHO's” (Small office Home Office, less than 5 employees), which, since they are a large group (about 30 million in US alone, estimated 500 million worldwide), they don't necessarily move as a group. So….”Crossing a Chasm” in this instance, is hitting a trend where a whole bunch of them are doing the same thing (eg, using technology, mobile, etc to streamline how they get paid, how they generate business, etc). A reporter recently used that we're “crossing our chasm” — I think we are! I think you are absolutely right — all the technology today accelerates this in a way never before…which makes it a bit mind boggling. Thanks again for a thought provoking post.
Kate, I saw the link to that article on facebook and it got me to finally write this post, which I've been stewing on for a while, thx!
Great Chasm busting case study, well done!
From Paul D. via email…
Interesting post. I think it fits well in the consumer market. I agree with others, larger organizations are cautious and only the brave, early adopter types will take new untested ideas up the ladder for approval. I think new technologies are still looking for the few brave early adopters to get market momentum going and generate some early sales.
Paul, I see this happening in B2B too. The innovators are so much more numerous, tech changing so fast, and execs are more fearful of falling behind…
I don’t see the chasm collapsing for Cloud computing. Possibly because cloud is at an early stage and is evolving as a technology. There is still a majority of enterprise who are working on virtualization and plan to take 2-3 years to develop their cloud strategy. I think the technology adoption cycle for business-critical functions in the enterprise may follow more of a traditional curve compared to less risky areas of the business.
Besides Crossing the Chasm, what other books would you recommend for a product manager?
Maksim, the classics are Ries and Trout Positioning and Crossing the Chasm. Many of Seth Godin’s books are worth reading. Once I get my book out, of course that one :)… Some recent books I’ve read include “the Challenger Sale” and “Content Rules”. Both are good and interesting
Reis and Trout Positioning is another classic. Recent reads I find interesting, though both flawed are Content Rules and The Challenger Sale. Happy reading…And of course will get you advance of “Velocity” by yours truly, hopefully by end of year