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Innovation without Adoption Is Simply an Academic Exercise

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Innovation is happening at a frenetic pace. New materials, processes, technologies and products are rolled out continuously. They come from industry, academia, government institutions and even individuals in their garages or maker spaces. Without adoption by the intended audience, many of those innovations are nothing more than an academic exercise.

The business-to-consumer (B2C) industry does a great job of driving adoption of innovations. These companies often begin with in-depth research to understand what will motivate the target audience to buy and use an innovation. They go through multiple prototypes with audience testing to make sure they get it right. Sophisticated marketing efforts clearly articulate the product’s value, striking just the right chords to motivate a purchase. Best of all, they have sophisticated metrics to measure adoption at each step and make adjustments as necessary.

When it comes to adoption of innovations designed for business-to-business (B2B) markets, companies often fall flat for a variety of reasons. In many cases they develop a solution for one customer and assume that others would buy it. Sometimes they innovate just because their engineers can and it’s “cool.” One of the biggest reasons they fall flat is that they rely too heavily on the voices of their salespeople and distribution channels – voices that often don’t match the end-user’s needs or perspective.

The bottom line is that we cannot continue to spend money, whether in industry or government, for innovations that are not fully adopted by the target audience. As the pace of innovation accelerates, the risks of investing in useless technologies or products increases as well. Neither industry nor taxpayers will tolerate those risks for long.

Fortunately, there are proven processes to accelerate the pace and breadth of adoption. Dr. Everett Rogers laid much of the groundwork when he wrote Diffusion of Innovations back in 1962. His work on the technology adoption life cycle has been cited in many works since.

Dr. Rogers lays out five major steps to driving adoption: knowledge, persuasion, decision, implementation and confirmation. Understanding and leveraging these five steps is the basis for accelerating adoption of any innovation. This is something that the B2C world does very well and it’s time to bring those efficiencies to the B2B industries.

This is the first in a series of articles that will explain what to do for each of the five steps. I’ll discuss proven processes and provide some examples along the way. I’ll also talk about common pitfalls, ranging from lack of focus to sabotage. The next article in this series can be read here.

In short, every innovation should have a clearly defined adoption plan. Sound adoption plans not only provide quantitative justification for investing in an innovation, they also provide realistic projections of the adoption rate and breadth. Those projections are the basis for calculating a valid return on investment.

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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