You can get a lot of reading done when your six-hour flight to Florida turns into a twelve-hour adventure, thanks to Delta. On my flight to FourSight training last week, I ended up spending four extra hours in Detroit, which was bad. The good part was that I was able to finish Geoffrey Moore’s book, Crossing the Chasm.
I read through the content keeping in mind two things: our school district’s Innovation Initiative and how digital learning is spreading through the United States. In that light, Moore’s book is illuminating. I thought it would be worthwhile summing up the content, and then talking a bit about how it relates to innovation and progress in education.
First, one of the guiding principles of innovation diffusion is that you move from left to right across the bell curve of the five categories of adopters. You start with Innovators, move to the Early Adopters, then through the larger groups of Early Majority and Late Majority, to finally integrate the Laggards. (For more background on this, check out Everett Rogers’ Wikipedia page.) It is often assumed that this spread is both natural and smooth.
However, what is often not articulated is that each of these groups have defining characteristics that make them quite different from each other. Because of these differences, Geoffrey Moore argues that the strategies used to spread an innovation to one particular type of people will likely fail when used to spread that same innovation to the group of people to their immediate right. Moore argues that the biggest gap occurs between Early Adopters and the Early Majority, and that this is where most innovations fail. He calls this process crossing the chasm. His work is devoted to helping high-tech firms cross this gap with new products, but the principles he espouses are easily applied to any innovation.
For reference, I’ve summarized characteristics of early adopters and the early majority.
Early Adopters (Visionaries)
- 13.5% of entire bell curve (small group)
- Buy in on the vision of the product making a difference in the world. Driven by a dream.Looking for breakthroughs in productivity or quality. Seek discontinuous innovations.
- See product benefits easily.
- Rely on own intuition and vision to try products.
- Technologically inclined, expect discontinuous innovation
- Will tolerate bugs, imperfections, and half-finished products. To a degree, expect that the delivered product may fall short of the promised product
- Expect communication and collaboration in return for their input
- Accept risk
- Least price sensitive group
- Fond of pilot studies
- Always in a hurry
Early Majority (Pragmatists)
- 33% of bell curve (large group)
- Looking for improvement, not breakthroughs
- Slower to decide and buy in
- Looking for practical solutions to pressing problems
- Expect whole product solutions from the established leader in that particular category
- Expect the promised product and the actual product to be identical.
- Product reputation is tantamount, so will seek information from other pragmatists before deciding.
- Little concern for market-changing vision
- Expect products to work out of the box. Low tolerance for bugs, imperfections, and half-finished products
- Will change to a new product, but only when convinced that the product will solve their pressing need with low stress and inconvenience
- Expect strong support and guidance
- Loyal once converted
- Reasonably price-sensitive, looking for value
- Like to see competition in services, to keep costs down
As I was reading Moore’s work, I couldn’t help but think of all the times when I’ve shot myself in the foot because I tailored my message to the wrong group of people. In particular, with regards to educational change, I’ve always talked to groups about how digital content, flipped learning, and blending learning can change the way that students learn, and dramatically increase the pace and personalization of learning. While this message was appropriate in the early stages of the digital learning movement, I’d argue that we’re well past the point of convincing early adopters to come on board. For the past year, the amount of interest in digital learning has boomed, at least here in Minnesota, and we’re well into the point of spreading the message to the early majority. And what they want to hear about the benefits of digital learning is different than what the early majority cares about.
From now on, when I’m talking about digital learning, I’m going to focus on the practical, problem-solving benefits of digital learning, and shy away from the revolutionary, world-changing element of the movement. I think this message will sit better with the early majority, which more and more are the educators jumping onto the digital learning movement now.
I’ve also got some thoughts on how Moore’s work relates to Learning Management Systems. I’ll add those thoughts in an upcoming post.