Geoffrey Moore popularized the concept of Crossing the Chasm in his very successful book released in 1991. His concept, very broadly, spoke about the differences in marketing technology products to different types of customers. The largest gap is often between the early adopters (visionaries) and the early majority (pragmatists). The messaging and the product positioning is different for the early adopter segment than for the early majority segment, and understanding these differences helps create the momentum necessary to cross the chasm.

Moore’s book was focused on technology-based startups, but much of this information can be very relevant for innovators within large companies. As you build new innovations, from ideas to products, the functionality and messaging must change as you move into more established parts of the organization. How can those in innovation positions use this information to bring more innovative products and services to the masses? By understanding their audience.

Every new idea has a champion. It has someone who loves the idea and thinks it will make a positive impact. Sometimes they expect the idea to change the world. The champion tells a few other people in his circle of friends and they all think it’s cool and exciting. Feeding off this excitement, he or she rushes off to tell the boss about this fantastic idea. The boss is someone who likes new technology, has the latest phone and likes to talk technology. But when the Champion tells his boss the idea, it gets shot down in a blaze of glory. “It’ll never work because of Reason A, Reason B, and Reason C. The company would never go for this.”

What happened? Well, this boss is a pragmatist. He likes new technology, but not too new. He likes the idea of having the coolest phone, but usually waits to see what the reviews say in major publications before he buys it. He’s what people would call part of the early majority. Someone who likes new technology and is early in the technology adoption lifecycle, but isn’t willing to sacrifice reliability to have the gadgets. He likes version 2, not version 1. While his friends were innovators and early adopters, his boss is the early majority.

And this is an example of the chasm. If the technology can’t cross over from those early adopters to his boss, then it continues to be a niche product.

For corporate innovation, the lesson here is that the work that the innovation labs, or innovation teams, are doing for the company is important, but if they aren’t able to translate those innovations to the business leaders, then it will never become a product or service that can be successful inside the enterprise.

The next natural question is “How can companies cross this chasm?” Here are a few lessons that we have learned that may help transform these exciting prototypes into profitable products.

  1. Bring business leaders in early, but not too early. If the prototype that the innovation lab built is too rough, or looks unfinished, then the business leader may focus on the problems and not the opportunity. When building the prototype, focus on solving the problem first, then add the polish which will show the potential. Don’t worry about scale, that comes later.
  2. Use data from the innovators and early adopters. As the prototype has been developed, it will have had input form the people that are most excited about the technology. Use this information, but don’t rely on this information. You also need to get data from people who aren’t early adopters. Have them tell you why it sucks and why it won’t work. That will help answer some questions from the business later. When you combine these different data sets, you begin to find gaps and opportunities.
  3. The prototypes probably should be better built than the lab wants them to be. The lab leaders are excited to get this product to the business leaders, but if it doesn’t have the polish on it, then it may fail to grab their attention, and you may not get a second chance. Ensure the user experience is polished and simple, even if the product isn’t scalable or ready for public consumption.
  4. Focus on momentum, not features. The key to crossing the chasm is momentum, not features. Traction is what you are looking to gain. “Last week we had 10 users, now we have 100 users.” The traction will carry you over the chasm as people will continue to want to use it and try it.

None of this will guarantee that the innovations will be commercially successful, but what it will do is ensure that the innovations have a good chance of getting the business unit excited.

Next week we’ll focus on how the rest of the organization can set itself up to cross this chasm by using process and governance to drive momentum. We usually associate process and governance with killing momentum, but we’ll challenge these assumptions next time.

Photo: Crossing the chasm, by IamNotUnique, is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0