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Innovation Without Adoption Is Simply an Academic Exercise – Part II

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This is a continuation of the first article in the series, which can be found here.

No matter how great your innovation, a lack of adoption will negate its value, tarnish your image and likely impact your bottom line. On the other hand, those who drive the highest adoption of their innovations will reap the greatest rewards.

We define adoption as the process of accepting and making full use of something new, with the phrase “making full use” being key. Just because people or organizations have paid for a service or product doesn’t mean that they’ve adopted that item.

Making full use of an innovation is important to adoption for many reasons. A key one is that those advanced users become powerful advocates for your service or product, helping expand adoption even further.

When the audience fails to make full use of something new, it presents a number of challenges. For example, an original equipment manufacturer (OEM) was developing a very sophisticated product that required efficient communications between the engineers to drive collaboration and innovation. To facilitate that communication, the OEM contractually required every one of their supply chain partners to use the exact same computer-aided design (CAD) program. This approach would limit errors and reduce time since the trading partners wouldn’t have to convert files back-and-forth between different CAD programs.

Since this was a contractual requirement, all of the supply chain partners bought the CAD program. However, there were a number of suppliers who failed to use the required CAD station and let it sit idle, converting the OEM engineering files to their preferred CAD program and back. As you can imagine, this introduced errors into the process and stymied the ability for engineers to collaborate. More importantly, it hampered the OEM’s ability to deliver on time and on budget.

While this example is about adoption to facilitate innovation rather than the innovation itself, it illustrates the challenges in driving adoption across disparate organizations and their employees. In this case, the only motivation was the contract requirement, which was not enough to overcome the change imposed.

From the perspective of the supply chain partner companies, costly training would be needed and the learning curve on this complex program would have impacted productivity. The perspective of the supply chain employees was that learning this new CAD program would be a burden, sucking up additional time that the employees didn’t feel they had.

While the OEM thought the contract requirement, along with some change management efforts, would be enough to drive adoption, it clearly wasn’t. The result was a very costly mistake that jeopardized the OEM’s entire program and tarnished its image.

When considering adoption of innovations, one of the challenges is that many people assume that change management and adoption are the same. They are not.

Change management typically refers to an approach of driving change within an organization. In this case, there are usually two tools to drive change – the carrot and the stick. The carrot is leveraging personal motivation that will help the targeted individuals want to, or at least accept, the change. The stick is requiring that individuals make the change, otherwise they’re demoted, transferred or fired. (Or, in the case of the OEM example, a company doesn’t get the work.)

In adoption, you often have to convince anywhere from hundreds to millions of individuals and organizations to adopt your innovation. They are geographically dispersed and all have different tools, processes and priorities. Most of all, the only driver you have is the carrot – convincing the target audience that they want to adopt your innovation. The stick is not an option, as you cannot tell your customers or trading partners what to do.

The next article in this series will get into the first step of accelerating adoption – increasing knowledge by generating awareness. Subsequent articles will address the following steps of persuasion, decision, implementation and confirmation. Collectively, the articles will help you gain insights into developing an effective adoption plan.

Chris Peters is the CEO of The Lucrum Group, an Annapolis-based consultancy focused on enabling the advanced manufacturing enterprise. Chris has developed manufacturing supply chain hubs in more than 20 industries worldwide. Much of that success was based on the ability to drive and accelerate adoption. His work has been documented in several books and in publications ranging from the Wall Street Journal to BusinessWeek and IndustryWeek.

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