The Diffusion of Innovation Theory, developed by E.M. Rogers, holds that disruptive technologies, products, and ideas tend to follow an ‘S’ shaped adoption curve with five stages.
- Adoption starts slowly, as only a small group of Innovators take a flier on a new technology before it is proven or widely accepted. Consider this group the buyers of the first Apple Watch, the original Tesla Roadster, or in a failed scenario, Google Glass.
- The next stage is for the slightly larger group of Early Adopters to come in, who accelerate the technology’s growth and evangelise its value via word of mouth. This is often considered the tipping point in a technology’s acceptance, as the Early Adopters must convince the bulk of the population that a particular technology is worthwhile.
- Moving to the Early Majority, we reach the part of the Adoption S-curve where the slope is the steepest, and hence the rate of adoption is at its fastest. In this phase, sales growth tends to explode.
- Adoption continues growing at a solid pace as the Late Majority are convinced to participate, and the technology appears seemingly almost everywhere. With 81% adoption, social media is likely somewhere in the Late Majority stage.
- Finally, the Laggards, or the holdouts, begrudgingly acquiesce and accept/adopt a technology. We might remember this group as the Blackberry “keyboard truthers” who eventually caved and bought a full-screen smartphone. By this point, however, sales growth has cooled off and virtually all of the potential market for a product has been captured.
The shape of this ‘S’ can be influenced by a variety of factors, including the speed of technological advancements, cost curves, regulations, competition, or even social norms. Some may never experience an ‘S’ at all, as technologies often fail to make it past the Innovators or Early Adopters stages, even if it is a superior product.
Tony Seba, a well-known Silicon Valley entrepreneur, has written “Clean Disruption of Energy and Transportation: How Silicon Valley Will Make Oil, Nuclear, Natural Gas, Coal, Electric Utilities and Conventional Cars Obsolete by 2030.”