The curse of the early adopter

First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you and then you win’.  Gandhi.

I love this quote.  I have it on the wall above my desk.  It reminds me that sometimes you have to stand up for what you believe in, even if you are the lone voice.  And during my career in HR, this is a place I have often found myself.  Many years ago, I fought so hard for a disabled employee that I felt the company were discriminating against that I nearly lost my own job, and my relationship with a senior manager never recovered.  I left soon after.  Being a lone voice, being an early adopter, can be a lonely, difficult place.

I am guessing you are familiar with Roger’s Innovation Adoption Curve.  The rate at which new innovations and ideas spread throughout cultures.

Innovators and early adopters.  These are the folk, or organisations, who get to new stuff fast.  They are right at the beginning of the adoption curve. First to the new thinking, the new piece of tech.  Quick to try something out, spot some potential, shout about this new stuff and adopt it into their everyday.  There is other terminology we can use for these people.  Disrupters.  Boat rockers.  Game changers.

But there’s the thing.  Boat rockers are not always popular.

However you phrase it, however sound your argument for something new or different, especially within organisations, for some people it is always going to sound more like this:

  • What you did in the past wasn’t very good
  • What you are doing now isn’t either
  • Abandon everything and do this instead
  • It’s all crap here, isn’t it?

For some there are other reactions, and many different underlying reasons.  Fear of change. A lack of understanding and a lack of desire to understand better.  Protecting vested interests.  Sometimes, those on the receiving end of the early adopter are just not ready or prepared for the message, the change required.  Sometimes, it is arrogance – think of the HMV response to digital, downloadable music. And the early adopter can be the one that takes the blame, or gets laughed out the door.

There is a an often quoted phase, attributed to a variety of different folks, that goes something like this:   If you do what you have always done, you will get what you have always got. The problem is that it isn’t really true.  Not in many cases, not any more.  Because for many organisations, doing what you have always done is the road to obsolescence.

Social media is a great example. I could wax lyrical about the benefits of social media.  I already have done so in plenty of blog posts and presentations.  But although we are heading towards the laggard stage, for some it is still something they don’t want to know about.  Aren’t ready to adopt or learn about, let alone recognise its importance to any organisation.  It is also something that people bitterly complain about or joke about. I’m still hearing ‘isn’t twitter just about telling people what you had for breakfast?’.

First they ridicule you……

There are those organisations out there who, when faced with a game changer and a challenger, rather than ask why people feel that they need to change the game at all, just try and close it down, hard if they have too.  Just look what is happening to our HR friends in New Zealand who have challenged their professional body.

Then they fight you…..

So to every early adopter, game changer, challenger or innovator.  To everyone trying to do new stuff or improve old stuff, hold your nerve.

Because when all of the ignoring and the ridiculing and the fighting is done, just maybe you will win.

And if you are the person who rolls their eyes when someone at your place comes up with an off the wall idea, make sure they are not an early adopter. And that the one doing the ignoring, the ridiculing, the fighting, isn’t you.

3 thoughts on “The curse of the early adopter

  1. Much of the reasons we are stuck with low calibre things in our professional field is probably summer up in the Gandhi quote.

    You see it already in people saying “Gary Hamel’s off again” or “Just look at the silly stuff Zappos are up to”.

    OK there are those who love shiny fads and alternative propositions.

    Yet consciously holding back new thinking and creative ideas? I know not why except fear and – as you say – arrogance.

    Seeing past the ridicule is as important an aspect of being an innovator (self-anointed or otherwise) as the idea itself. It’s when you can count on those who mean the most to you: when they support you whether they believe in the totality of your innovation or not. Because they believe in you. And nothing says “winning edge” more than people believing in you.

    Togetherness wins in the game of change and this blog – for me – says it all.

    Hold. Your. Nerve.

  2. Really enjoyed this one. Being an early adopter is a bit of a poisoned chalice – you’re so necessary to the future of an organisation (you help them stay agile and move on from poor tech solutions), but often colleagues don’t want to go the extra mile with you.

    Great piece. Sharing now.

  3. Pingback: Best Blogs 23 January 2015 | ChristopherinHR

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