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Projects-to-Products: Crossing the Chasm Pt 1

By Brian Nathanson posted Nov 20, 2019 05:03 PM

The first popular product marketing model I reference often comes from Crossing the Chasm by Geoffrey Moore. I will be ruthlessly paraphrasing Moore's conclusions here for the sake of time and space, but I highly recommend reading both this work and his follow up, Inside the Tornado, if you want a keen understanding of what causes many startup products to succeed or fail.

Luckily, many of you reading this post will not be trying to startup a new business entirely from scratch. Instead, you will be attempting to define or expand a product model within your (large) organization. So why the reference to Crossing the Chasm?

Simply put, Moore identified through extensive research that not all people have the same openness to adopting new technology -- and we use technology here in its most expansive definition -- that is, any new way to do something. A pen is new technology when compared to a pencil; a bronze sword is new technology compared to a stick. Whenever there is the potential to do something in a new or different way, there is a natural progression to the way technology is adopted. He coined this the Technology Adoption Life Cycle.

The Technology Adoption Life Cycle identifies that there are 5 different types of people when it comes to adopting technology:  Innovators, Early Adopters, Early Majority, Late Majority, and Laggards. Each has different psychological characteristics:

  • Innovators like technology for technology's sake. These are the people you know that always have the latest and greatest gadget, even ones that never become popular or common.
  • Early Adopters have big pain points that are just waiting to be addressed. As such, they seize of the promise of a new technology and are willing to take chances to make a change. These tend to be people who are fairly open-minded and willing to take some level of risk in hopes of a better future.
  • Early Majority are people who like what a new technology offers, but they differ from early adopters in that they are generally unwilling to take risks to realize new value. Early majority folks are primarily marked by a desire for assurance that they can continue to do everything the way they have always done it (i.e. they are not giving anything up) before they will be willing to take on your new technology. In this sense, early majority folks are very practical people. Something gained is generally not felt as much as something lost, so they attempt to preclude losses before looking at any potential gains. The one exception is if the gains are so extreme that it would be obviously worthwhile to accept some amount of loss for such significant gain. Convincing the early majority that this is the case is the game many technology product managers attempt to play.
  • Late Majority are people who adopt technology after almost everyone else has done so. They want a super high number of references similar to themselves before they will have the necessary comfort level to adopt new technology. At this point, they figure that many of the issues have been worked out, problems have been solved, and ways to realize value have been documented, so the overall risk of adoption is low. In many cases, they have waited so long that it is actually a greater risk to continue using their old technology rather than move to the new technology. (For example, if the reason you upgrade software is because you're about to fall out of maintenance support, you probably fall in this category.)
  • Laggards are people who adopt technology long after it is mainstream and/or never do so. Frankly, the world works just fine with what they have and they don't see the need to change thankyouverymuch. If you know someone (maybe it's you) that insists they are just fine with over-the-air TV, cassette or VHS tapes, or landline phones (and no cell phone), they fall into this category.

These characteristics are intended to describe people but I contend they also describe organizations in that a certain risk profile is implied within each of these groups. Innovators & Early Adopters have more aggressive risk profiles. Late Majority and Laggards have far more conservative risk profiles.

Now you're probably thinking that's all great and wonderful, but where does the chasm come in? I'll cover that in my next post.