Adoption Happens

In his blog last week, Gartner analyst Jeffrey Mann responds to Cisco’s Parvesh Sethi touting the capabilities of Cisco’s IP phones:

I’ve seen quite a few IP phones on people’s desks, and I’m sure that some people are doing innovative things with them. However, I usually see them being used as, well, phones. The phones may have an IP address and lots of great possibilities, but I have yet to encounter anyone who uses even 20% of those possibilities. Most people just pick them up to dial, much as they have been doing for decades.

Am I missing something? I respect Mr. Mann greatly, but I think there’s a point missing from this argument.

Whenever a new – and disruptive – technology arrives, even when it’s widely deployed and the benefits are obvious, the adoption of the most advanced features takes some time (remember your technology adoption life cycle?).

I don’t mean to be cynical here, but let’s face it: If I had an IP phone on my desk, I’d use it to make calls (sorry, I’m with Steve Jobs on this one: the killer app for (cell) phones is still making calls). Given my penchant for playing with tech toys, I’d probably play with all of the advanced features, too. And I’d learn which ones are actually useful for me (not necessarily the same ones for everyone, either). But I’m an “early adopter” and not everyone is – in fact, very few people are.

But the fact that the technology is there, and it’s being marketed and made available means that – if it’s useful – it will eventually be used.

Bringing a disruptive technology to market happens in stages. In order for a majority of customers to understand the technology, it has to fit into the context of something they do today. It can be better and different, but in this case, a phone is still a phone and makes calls and does some other cools stuff.

The important lessons for disruptive marketers: Only when it’s accepted that the disruptive technology can fit into common activities does it get the chance to realize its disruptive potential and begin to change those activities, or obviate them and create new ones.

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