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TECH TALK: Good Books: The Change Function

July 26th, 2006 · No Comments

I was enthralled by Pip Coburn’s writings on technology while he was at UBS. So, it didn’t take me much time to pick up his book, The Change Function. It is about why some technologies succeed — and others fail. The short answer:

The Change Function = f(user crisis vs. total perceived pain of adoption).

From the books description:

After years of studying countless winners and losers, Coburn has come up with a simple idea that explains why some technologies become huge hits (iPods, DVD players, Netflix), but others never reach more than a tiny audience (Segways, video phones, tablet PCs). He says that people are only willing to change when the pain of their current situation outweighs the perceived pain of trying something new.

In other words, technology demands a change in habits, and thats the leading cause of failure for countless cool inventions. Too many tech companies believe in build it and they will come — build something better and people will beat a path to your door. But, as Coburn shows, most potential users are afraid of new technologies, and they need a really great reason to change.

Here is an excerpt from the book (from Fast Company):

Technologists think we’ll gladly adopt an innovation when it’s manifestly smarter. But change is an emotion-laden process. Disrupting, game-changing technologies? No way. Most of us despise being disrupted and don’t wish to be game-changed.

The technologies that stand the best chance of winning us over are enhanced editions of products we already understand. Flat-panel televisions, for example, are much better televisions with low perceived pain of adoption. Everyone “gets” what a basic television is all about. There’s nothing to learn. At the same time, flat-panel TVs address a powerful need. True, it’s both subtle and self-fulfilling: It’s the psychic pain we feel for not having one. Since 19% of televisions sold in 2005 were flat panels, the technology appears set to hit a societal tipping point. Anyone who doesn’t have one will feel deeply embarrassed about it. If that’s not a crisis, I don’t know what is.

A technology’s success or failure is not merely fated. Instead, it demands action of one of two varieties. Technologists can identify and intensify a customer crisis. Or they can reduce the perceived pain of adoption.

Tomorrow: The Change Function (continued)


TECH TALK Good Books+T

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