Twitter is tomorrow’s email… technology adoption in organisations

Phases of technology adoption in organisations
Phases of technology adoption in organisations

In 2004 – in Lithuania, of all places – Professor Stephen Coleman introduced me to a four-phase model for understanding how new technologies are adopted and influenced by organisations.

Don’t know if he came up with it directly but finding it beautifully simple and functional, I’ve used it countless times since to make sense of how technology use is developing in organisations I have worked for or with.

I was discussing it with Neil Williams over a cerveza recently, and decided to add a fifth phase that I’d like to share here.

Coleman’s four phases (note – I’ve tweaked the names, but not their essence) ran as follows:

hyperbole > resistance > institutionalisation > transformation
Here’s an explanation of each and an example drawn from the world of digital engagement:

1. Hyperbole… a new technology emerges and wows early adopters, whose interest generates intense speculation about what it could go on to achieve. Needless to say that achievement will be nothing short of revolutionary. Augmented reality and location-based services might be good examples.

2. Resistance… Cometh the hype, cometh the backlash. All the problems, bugs and costs come out and the risks mount up. Conservatism kicks in and the mission becomes defending against the technology or its implications. Crowdsourcing springs to mind.

3. Institutionalisation… The technology probably emerged on the basis of a genuine need and, during all the talk of the previous two phases, it has been debugged and improved. Either way, in the third phase the technology is picked up by the mainstream. But – this is crucial – the technology is put to use perpetuating an existing function. For me, data visualisation and commentable documents are currently at this phase.

4. Transformation… Despite being put to a defined, traditional use, once that technology is inside the organisation and being applied to core business, it begins to have a catalytic affect and creates wholly new dynamics. It changes interactions between staff, and staff and ‘customers’; it changes processes and base functions. Ultimately, new technology changes business. Microblogging is a very current example.

I don’t think it finishes there though. For me there is potentially a fifth phase:

hyperbole > resistance > institutionalisation > transformation > normalisation

5. Normalisation… Transformation builds and builds, hits a crescendo and then there is a segue into normalisation. Yesterday’s transformative technology becomes today’s standard, solid, conventional tool. Think email; think blogging.

Naturally, the transitions between these phases are blurs rather than snaps. And, much depends on a range of external factors. Nonetheless, I think that this is a handy model for routine [non-academic] mapping and analysis.

Any thoughts on its validity? Does it chime with you?

Any thoughts where particular applications, types of tools or organisations are on the spectrum?

10 thoughts on “Twitter is tomorrow’s email… technology adoption in organisations

  1. Hi Ross – really glad you wrote this up (and not least because after a few drinks I couldn’t remember the stages nor the name of your source to be able to Google it).

    It still chimes with me – think it’s wonderfully simple and the stages have clear boundaries, unlike many models.

    The examples you’ve given seem accurately placed to me.

    Struggling to place virtual worlds on this spectrum. Might still be languishing in resistance (and that might be the right place for it, time will tell).

  2. Neil – I wonder if we started to think of virtual worlds as simulators, if that would move them on. I do think that they were seriously over-hyped but I still think there was something in the likes of how the Darzi Review proposed to use SecondLife to let people experience options for next-gen clinics without having to physically build them first. Cost, quality and the numbers of people actually using virtual worlds are what’s keeping them in ‘resistance’.

  3. Really like this model Ross. It applies not just to the introduction of a new technology, but with the introduction of any new idea or design that impacts on ways of working – open plan office spaces, for example.

    It also syncs with the psychology of how organisations and their workforces respond to change – taking ‘something new’ from the realm of the enthusiasts, to simply being the way we do business. By understanding these phases (and recognising that there will naturally be some resistance), it’s a model that might help change managers and internal engagement leads to plan their strategies more effectively.

  4. Glad you like the model, Kim. And thank you for your thoughts on its broader applications.

    I am very interested in putting a ‘name’ on the specific catalysts that move an application or idea on from one phase to the next.

    Keen to hear of research and opinion on the matter.

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