Do you know somebody who is addicted to getting the latest model phone, car or any other trendy piece of tech that’s on the market? Are they first in line at trade shows with titles like ”The World of Tomorrow” or ”The Future is Now”? Do you have that annoying friend that preaches the gospel of ”life hacks” unto unsuspecting victims? If the answer is yes to any or all of the above then they might suffer from pro-innovation bias.
What the term basically boils down to is this: people assume that just because something is new it is automatically better and they subsequently go out of their way to adopt said thing, without taking the time to find out if it is actually necessary.
This holds true in all aspects of life, and the business environment is no stranger to this practice. We all know anecdotes from the concrete jungle, of companies that tried to jump on the bandwagon of some new fad, only to find that their money could have been better spent somewhere else (or not at all). However, this trend presents an interesting question to businesses that have a product they feel would be an improvement to the work environment. How can they capitalize on this type of bias?
This brings us to the topic of diffusion of innovation. This is a theory first postulated by Everett Rogers over 50 years ago, to explain how, why, and at what rate innovation spreads (both tangible and ideological). He goes on to identify the four main elements involved in spreading the idea:
- the innovation itself
- communication channels
- and a social system
As far as adopters are concerned, there are 5 main types:
- early adopters,
- early majority,
- late majority,
- and laggards.
In order for an idea to be widely diffused it has to reach critical mass by appealing to as many types of adopters as possible. This is where the pro innovation bias can work in your favour, if you know how to take advantage of it.
Let’s take the topic of meetings for example. People have been getting together to decide things since the time when we needed to plan how to find the juiciest mammoths, in torch-lit caves. Meetings have come a long way since then (hopefully). With the ever expanding sphere of interest for business and globalisation it has become more and more apparent that the need for instant feedback between partners that are situated halfway around the globe is key when it comes to an optimal business flow. That means better communication via the available media (telephone, fax, internet) and less confusion regarding the actual meeting details.
This is where conference room scheduling software made its mark. People saw the need for a better, faster and more accurate way to book meetings, within the client’s own company, a system that goes beyond what can be done with a basic spreadsheet and have come up with various meeting room booking systems that take into account complex business needs (such as governance rules/ approval workflows).
Some of them are easy to use, some are more complicated, some offer just a few basic functions, some shower you with an embarrassment of options, some are cheap and some are expensive. There is one thing they all have in common though. They all need to find a way to take advantage of the innovation bias in order to counteract the status-quo bias (sticking to the spreadsheet is more comfortable than switching, at least at first) because, whenever you deal with actual people there will always be the possibility for human error. This is an instance where technology manages to instantly improve the whole process, as it allows users to have direct control over their schedules, it provides them with granular access based on the clearance level they have within their own organisation and it avoids double bookings or overlapping meetings among other things.
But how can you actually overcome resistance to innovation? By controlling the three sets of factors that influence it:
- Perceived Innovation Characteristics,
- Consumer Characteristics and
- Propagation Mechanisms Characteristics
As far as innovation characteristics are involved you need to make sure that the perceived relative advantage is high, that it feels compatible with the existing values and needs of the client, that it does not present them with high risk levels, that it is both triable (easily tested) and divisible (can be attempted in stages), can be easily communicated to others, it doesn’t have a high level of complexity, can be reversed, will provide them with quick benefits, can be modified in order to suit specific needs and will not impede them to adopt other profitable innovations. Then you have to consider your consumer. Ideally, they have to perceive a need for your product, their routine should not be greatly disrupted by it, their personality leans more towards self-confidence and less towards dogmatism, they have a pro-innovation bias both towards the product and its adoption, they had positive experiences in similar situations and they are good innovators in their own right. And lastly we need to address the propagation mechanisms which can basically be defined according to the extent of marketer control and the type of contact with the client. This means that early-on, marketer-controlled propagation mechanisms are more effective, while later-on the effectiveness of propagation mechanisms not controlled by the marketer is higher, with those mechanisms which involve direct and personal contact with the consumer (such as word-of-mouth and opinion leadership) being more effective than those which involve indirect contact with the consumer. The propagation mechanism has to be clear, credible, informative and attractive.
If you hit all of those you probably have a guaranteed hit on your hands.
History is replete with firms that missed attractive opportunities by sticking to their current strategy because they stick to it as a consequence of organizational learning, as the tendency to reproduce successful actions comes at the cost of underestimating unknown alternatives and also because innovation-seeking firms can exhibit high-variance performance trajectories, therefore their survival rates decrease in the sense that firms may appear feeble in the short run, even though their long-run performance might be superior. (https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1694589 )
There are many ways in which you can draw attention to your new product. To list but a few, there’s the option to construct a product image that conveys the desired traits (sleek design, user-friendly interface, customer oriented and so on). Another is to spam your audience with aggressive campaigns designed to convince them that the product is the best thing since sliced bread. And the latest, trendiest, ”most-innovative” way - one could say - is to target a small number of key influencers that will go on to diffuse your message within their groups of followers. The latter option is a perfect embodiment of the pro-innovation bias and how an old tale can be spinned into a new narrative. Celebrity endorsements of various products are as old as you can possibly imagine, with the first recorded example from the 1760s (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Celebrity_branding), but the whole buzz created around social media as a marketing tool, will have you think that this is a revolutionary new way to bring your product into focus, as the celebrity label is applied to an ever widening group of people and endorsements have been cleverly rebranded from mere ads to content that the public are actively seeking out on their own (as haul videos, review blogs, Insta stories and so on).
Regardless of the type of approach you use, you still have to be aware that there might be some residual resistance to your product, as this is associated with the degree to which individuals feel themselves threatened by change. This can be alleviated by building products (or services) that impose a low cognitive load on their users.
As society tends to move towards a higher level of members who are pro innovation, the business world will start to follow the same trend as well. And one thing is for certain. Professional life as we know it is going to get a lot less frustrating.