For technology managers, it’s often seen as beneficial to recruit a group of Early Adopters of technology to try it out. Indeed, Early Adopters can become champions of new technology, spreading the gospel of the new system to other employees and getting the workforce excited about it. Or, they might just be the reason that the technology works in pilot but fails in production.
When new technology doesn’t take on, technology managers must re-evaluate their thinking. Could it be, though, that the technology works just fine, and the solution is simply designed with the wrong user in mind?
I love Early Adopters. They have high expectations for new technology. They are often searching for the next innovation that works better than the current technology.
They typically have a natural sense of dissatisfaction with the status quo, and as a result are open to the innovation and change as part of the solution to problems. Unfortunately, those same qualities can result in false positives when it comes to new technology.
Early Adopters are willing to accept problems with new solutions. While they are great barometers of what can work across they organization, they can become poor examples of what will work across the organization.
Early Adopters are technology influencers – which means they aren’t the average user by definition. Instead, Knowledge Workers can fill in the gaps between Early Adopters and the workforce.
What is a Knowledge Worker?
– Cares about what needs to be done.
– Invests in process and celebrates what is accomplished
– Changes technology to accommodate their workflow and abandons technology because the flaws are more painful that the status quo
– Talks outcomes
What is an Early Adopter?
– Cares about what can be done
– Invests in what is possible and celebrates how close they get
– Changes the way they work to accommodate technology and weighs technical flaws against technical advancement
– Talks innovation
The differences are subtle but important. As a CTO focusing on collaboration and communication, I’ve seen that successful technology projects depend on pervasive adoption. The solution must be easily consumed by Knowledge Workers who wish to complete their task without having to train for new, complicated technology.
One example that comes to mind is a large healthcare provider we worked with not long ago.
This Emergency Room optimization project included applying collaboration solutions to expedite how patients get treated in the ER.
The goals were to reduce waiting time while increasing quality of care. The team we worked with was tech-savvy – while not engineers or designers, they were caregivers focused on patient outcomes.
The team included Early Adopters that challenged every roadblock, as well as Knowledge Workers more focused on patients than innovation.
The conversation focused not on technology specs, but instead on delivering patient care. In the end, the technology had to be transparent to the Knowledge Worker to truly work.
We settled on including innovative ways to address bottle-necks in the ER, saving potentially millions annually, and expediting patient care. The lesson was that Early Adopters innovate while Knowledge Workers adopt.
From one technology leader to another, here are three actions to take in order to maximize the influence of Early Adopters without losing site of the goal:
1. Capture the Energy of Early Adopters – this creates momentum. Innovation, by definition, requires change. Work with Early Adopters to bring life and purpose, then shift to Knowledge Workers when considering how to design the solution.
Design for how people work, and introduce new technology that accelerate decisions and improve collaboration.
2. Strive for Adoption – Early Adopters focus on how to use the technology, but just because you can doesn’t mean you should. Knowledge Workers won’t tolerate a disjointed flow. They want new technology to align with the way they work now, and enable them to work better. Improve their work, rather than changing it.
3. Drive Out “All you have to do…” – I tell my team that the words “all you have to do…” aren’t allowed. When this phrase is used, we’re admitting that we can’t find an intuitive way to introduce the new technology to the workforce. Early Adopters might accept the response, but Knowledge Workers won’t.
In the end, listening to Early Adopters helps us understand what’s possible, while Knowledge Workers will help us understand how to get it done. Early Adopters are critical to launching any new innovation.
It takes a laser focus on design and adoption by Knowledge Workers to keep the new technology in orbit. Both are critical to success. Yet both must be given a unique voice and role in the process. When we honor each specific and distinct role, truly amazing things will happen.