What type of innovator are you? In 1962 the book “Diffusions of Innovations” came out. It was a phrase coined by communications professor Everett Rogers. It explains how, why, and at what rate new ideas and technology is spread through cultures. Rogers explained in his book that four main elements are responsible for spreading a new idea – the innovation, time, communication channels, and a social system.
A true innovator is someone who has the guts to be the first with a new idea and be fearless enough to stand up and defend that idea when everyone else thinks it’s crazy. The more radical the innovation is, the more likely you are to be ridiculed in the very beginning. Inventors are constantly pushing the envelope of what’s possible.
As an inventor sometimes I’ve felt like the only people who could really understand me are other inventors. Inventors are able to see what others miss, until of course, that new idea hits critical mass thanks to the trendsetting, early adopters.
Rogers lists the adopters of a new product as innovators, early adopters, early majority, late majority, and laggards. Most people are very conscious about what other people think of them and hesitate to be the first one to try something until it catches on with the majority.
The innovators are the risk takers. They are usually the first ones to adopt an innovation. They also tend to be younger, have a higher social class, more money, and are very social. They are not group thinkers. I was always this way. In school I would wear clothes that weren’t in style just because I liked them. I was the one who started trends that others followed. All inventors are innovators. We take the risk with money, time and sweat equity. And, we have to believe in something even if everyone around us says to give up.
The innovator stage is slow because a very tiny group of people (around 2.5%) are willing to take a chance on something brand new that hasn’t been proven yet. The product, service or idea is untested and might fail. Innovators don’t care about failure. They embrace it. They know that behind all great innovations is a lot of failure. It’s part of the process. That’s why inventors are such a rare breed. Most people don’t want to take the chance of failure.
The early adopters are the next level, and once it gets there the idea is on its way. It’s still no guarantee, but the ball is rolling at that point. Early adopters, like innovators, tend to be younger and more social. They are willing to take a calculated risk after seeing the innovators jump off the cliff first.
As an inventor or business owner, you want to seek out early adopters. They are the ones, like innovators, who will help you refine your idea and make it better. These are the people you want to get your products to since they will be excited to tell their friends about something new they discovered. They are willing to put their reputations on the line for you.
Early adopters will scrutinize your product and make sure it works to solve a problem. They want to find innovative things that they can talk about at cocktail parties and social gatherings. They want to be known as an influencer who finds trends before others do.
Wrist water bottle invention
When I invented the wrist water bottle I remember it was a slow process getting started. I could always tell who the innovators and early adopters were. The concept of wearing a water bottle on your wrist was pretty radical. It’s the kind of product that you have to be “cool” wearing. It had never been done before, so it took some brave people to start the trend. Once I got enough people wearing them, then others jumped on board. Unfortunately most people will wait for others to do something before they try it.
I started getting videos from people around the world who were using my product. Some were informational from moms who liked the idea that their kids were now drinking more water because they had a cool wrist bottle. Some were funny, like the guy who beat his friend in a race because he was wearing a wrist water bottle.
Early adopters of the Croc shoe weren’t wearing them because they were a fashion statement. Doctors, nurses, boaters, and restaurant workers were among the early adopters because they were super comfortable for people who were on their feet all day. They solved a problem for them. But once they hit a critical mass, that all changed.
The early adopters of the Croc shoe became evangelists. For an ugly shoe that started out as a footwear alternative for boaters, Crocs soon caught on as a mainstream fad, and the rest is history. They went on to sell millions.
The majority of people fall into the next two categories. Early majority makes up about 34% of a product’s users. They tend to be slower to adopt an idea until they’ve seen plenty of people using it. Early adopters are innovators. Early majority are group thinkers. They follow the herd and don’t tend to be leaders. They will stand in line for a new product at full price even when cheaper versions may come out in the future.
But they are still more innovative than late majority or laggards. But barely. They don’t want to look silly being the first to use something. But they feel that, since plenty of other have taken that chance, and enough time has passed, it should be okay, and they won’t be the first. This is the first group to widely adopt an idea on a big scale. They are also the ones in a company meeting who will agree with whatever the group wants instead of putting out their own innovative ideas.
Some examples of products that caught on with early majority might be the microwave and high definition televisions. Sometimes it could be lack of knowledge or that the cost is still too hight, that keeps the masses from jumping on board right away.
The late majority category tend to adopt an idea after everyone else has proven that it works. These people are very skeptical and are almost never leaders, but group thinkers. They care deeply what other people think of them. This is about 34% of the market, and they will only adopt it after it’s been widely accepted in society. An example of someone in the late majority category would be anyone who went on social media for the first time after 2012.
Laggards are truly the most risk averse of all. They make up about 16% of the population. They would be a very hard group to sell a new idea to. They tend to stick with what they have and aren’t that interested in changing for any reason. If you can ever sell a product to this group you will probably have a customer for life. But getting them on board with something new…not so much.
What type of innovator are you?