Innovation through the eyes of a chameleon

One line summary: Like a chameleon, your customer must adapt by adopting new rules to maximise the new possibilities that are enabled by your new innovation / technology. 

The Detail

There is a general belief, that markets adopt new technology. This general belief stems from early work done by Professor Everett Rogers, and later popularized by Geoffrey A. Moore who contributed the concept of crossing the chasm.

Source: Wikipedia

The diffusion of innovations according to Rogers. With successive groups of consumers adopting the new technology (shown in blue), its market share (yellow) will eventually reach the saturation level. In mathematics, the yellow curve is known as the logistic function. The curve is broken into sections of adopters.

Professor Everett Rogers argues, that diffusion is the process by which an innovation is communicated over time, amongst the participants in a social system. He then continues to provide the basis for the process “The innovation-development process consists of all of the decisions, activities, and their impacts, that occur from recognition of a need or problem, through research, development, and commercialisation of an innovation, through diffusion and adoption of the innovation by users, to its consequences”. 

All his arguments are based on the idea, that innovation solves problems or satisfies needs. This article will argue that it is this specific assumption that we need to challenge, to move the entire body of knowledge into a totally new domain.

Innovation is, by definition, associated with creating something totally new (novel), as described by Peter Thiel’s analogy of 0 to 1. There was nothing and then there is 1, to make the impossible possible. What could best describe moving from nothing to 1? It is not continuous improvement (more of the same), as some might suggest. The possible description is something like a breakthrough. Does innovation normally result in a breakthrough? In essence, a breakthrough removes or overcomes, a limitation or a barrier or restriction or constraint, and allows the system to move into a new space, where it can grow until it hits the next limitation or constraint. A breakthrough does not solve a problem nor does it satisfy a need – it removes limitations and constraints. This article will also argue that a limitation or constraint, is normally accepted by the market as a fact of life, and that the market doesn’t necessarily see it as a problem or a need.

Limitations can be classified under “assumed as a fact of life” – You say that something, which is not pleasant, is a fact of life, when there is nothing you can do to change it, hence you must accept it. We don’t see “facts of life” as a problem – we just find ways to cope or accommodate them. This understanding is fundamental, to understanding the process of innovation and market adoption. Innovation essentially assists in removing limits for mankind. In other words, innovation can bring benefits, if and only if, it removes a significant limitation for the market.

Before the new innovation arrives to remove the limitation, people were doing just fine – they adapted to the limitation, by adopting specific traits, rules, norms, lifestyle to extract the maximum value from the limiting situation. Now, your new innovation removes the limitation, and bingo, the market can expand into a new space, until they hit the next limitation. At this point it must be clear why the market must now stop the old traits, rules, norms, lifestyle and adopt new ones. If they don’t adopt new ones, then they will behave as if the limitation still exists. They need to adopt new traits, rules, norms, and lifestyle to extract the maximum value from the new space, enabled by the removal of the limitation.

Markets do not adopt new innovation or technology, they adopt the new rules that will enable them to maximise the benefits, emanating from the removed limitation. 

Your innovation only contributed to the removal of the limitation. In other words, innovation is necessary, but not sufficient, the market must adopt the new rules, to realise the full benefits. It they don’t, very few benefits will be realised! The only theory that does describe this tendency of adapting by adopting special traits is evolution, arguing the case for those that adapt, by adopting special maximising traits, will survive. The conclusion is unavoidable, that the market is not communicating the idea nor the innovation, as described by Professor Rogers, but that the market is figuring out what new maximising rules and traits they must adopt, to realise the full benefits. Since the innovation is not sold with the REALISATION instructions (new rules, traits), the market follows approximately the life cycle graph, as explained by Professor Rogers, to figure it out by themselves. Wouldn’t it make sense to include, as part of the innovation, the new rules, traits, lifestyle that would assist the target market to realise the full benefits much faster?

Every new innovation, must be tested and/or evaluated against at least the following three factors: 1) its power to remove a significant limitation for the target market, 2) the new realisation rules that the market must adopt, and 3) the significance of the benefits, emanating from the removed limitation. Thinking this way is a departure from the norm, where inventors, entrepreneurs and founder of Start Ups, are mainly focusing on solving problems, satisfying needs and merely giving instruction of how to use it.

 Somebody said, “Ideas are JUST a multiplier of EXECUTION”. Maybe, it should have said, “Benefits are JUST a multiplier of REALISATION”. No matter what you do or promise, until the market has realised the full benefits, you have achieved nothing. Subsequent articles will expand this thinking to include the methods, techniques and tools to enable innovators to sell technology (that actually removes limitations), with the realisation instructions to ramp market adoption rates.

Article by Henning du Preez

Chief Scientist TMARA Group

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