Lead, Follow or Die?

by Jay Deragon on 09/15/2008

The landscape of technology for business is facing a major transformational wave just beginning to swell. The social web has sparked an industry made up of entrepreneurs whose collective efforts have created a new eco-system of technology fueled by collaborative efforts and consumer appeal for “connectivity and innovation“. The new eco-system is built on platforms that for the most part are free and enhanced functionality has been driven by application developers providing increased functional value, again for free.

Traditional mindsets get stuck on “free” and thus cannot rationalize the business value of all this social stuff. Traditional mindsets and related business models view all this “social stuff” as craziness and it will never change our business plans. To that we would say “craziness is the edge of creativity which is the envelope of innovation“.

Which Stage is Your Business In?

Paul Wiefels, Managing Director, The Chasm Group, LLC writes: The earliest stage in the technology adoption life cycle focuses on gestation. Consider this phase as the birth of a new paradigm. The key market goal is to win a handful of big deals from visible, visionary customers. At this stage, the focus is on technology leadership, and the key metric is design wins.

The next debate comes with the transition to the second stage, which must focus on market penetration, breaking into the mainstream marketplace, an act that is resisted by anyone with vested interests in the status quo. Here the focus should be on dominating a niche market as quickly as possible. Not dominating a niche leaves the fledgling paradigm floating ambiguously in the ether—promising and interesting to be sure—but unsecured, and hence, subject to those familiar apocalyptic horsemen: Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt. This so-called FUD is actually promoted by the status quo who know that new market entrants can be stopped in their tracks if they are viewed by a nervous market as risky.

The third stage of technology adoption is proliferation. The new paradigm has achieved the status of “safe buy,” and is now experiencing hyper growth, a massive rise in demand during which the “mainstream market” seeks to emulate their peers.. There is nothing that hypergrowth will punish more than ceasing to focus on acquiring new customers.

The final stage of adoption is assimilation and variation, where the core technology submerges from view, and the market now focuses on “surface-level” modifications to tune the offer to particular user wants or needs. This is the era of one-on-one marketing via mass customization, where profit margins are earned not by engineering but by marketing. To secure these profits, one must not plow them back under in a never-ending escalation of technology—remember, its value has been submerged from view—and so the key anti-metric, bringing us full circle, is design wins.

The early adopters of all this social stuff have created a pull that can’t be resisted. Citizen journalism fueled by reach and richness is and continues to create a Tsunami of influence. Recognizing this as a paradigm shift business leaders are taking notice and adopting social technologies as part of their day to day operating activities. The current stages for these market leaders is somewhere between market penetration and proliferation. The cycles of adoption are being accelerated by success stories and consumer migration to innovative uses of the technology for business purposes.

What used to take decades for laggards to embrace a new technology and make it mainstream could now become condensed into 12 month cycles as businesses and consumers alike move from proliferation to assimilation and variation as creativity and collaboration fuel further innovation. The potential of hyper-cycles of change could be very disruptive for traditional mindsets and business models stuck in old technologies. Advancing technologies will continue to create shifts in markets but the business leaders that capture the largest market share and subsequent value will be those that focus on design that is centric to consumer and business needs unmet and even yet undefined. There lies the value and economic gains.

Leading is a function of creating value better than and more than others and doing so before others do. You can wait and follow the market or you can create it for others to follow. Or you can do nothing and watch your business die a certain death.

What say you?

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