Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Riding the wave

There is a well know adoption curve that looks somewhat like a wave that products surf going through their life cycle.  Just like the surfer, they start well before the main curve/wave with the pioneers.  In this stage new possibilities are created, new ideas, new language.  Soon there is a slight build up of the approaching wave as early adopters discover and use the new product basking in the novelty.  A critical point develops, where the novelty is not enough and a transition to the main wave must be made.  This is often called the early adopter chasm as it is usually very difficult to make the transition to a mainstream product surfing on the massive wave.  While there is excitement in the early phases, with all of the discoveries and new ideas, the real impact is in the actual surfing of the wave. Here you feel the presence of the masses and prove the general usefulness of the product under stress.  Flow state is needed here to maintain the equilibrium to stay on the face of the wave.  Losing the equilibrium can cause a wipe out or even simply sliding over the top and off the backside of the wave.

I have experience the full life cycle through this wave.  In the late 1970's into the early 1980's, I was a contributor to the creation and development of early computer network architectures as a developer, architect and standards body member.  It was an exciting time, creating new protocols defining how computers talk to each other, new ideas about how to use networks.

The company I worked for created a very advanced network architecture well out in front of any other networking product existing in the world at the time. Many ideas we developed into a product came into the open internet many years, sometimes decades later.  The down side was that most people at that time did not know how to effectively take advantage of the features.  The implementation was so big that it could only run on mainframe computers.  Instead, a light weight protocol called TCP/IP satisfied their needs at the current popular level of sophistication.  I watched our network architecture slide into niche markets as TCP/IP took over the world.  30 years later, I recently, helped the last major user complete the transition to TCP/IP.  So I have experienced the full life cycle from birth to death.

Directly experiencing this, I learned a lot of lessons. 

1) Pioneers and early adopters are essential to feed the product pipe line. But don't expect to take what is developed there directly to the main stream. It must be tempered to fit the following:

2) Main stream products must be barely ahead of the current needs of the main stream users.  Not so novel that they cannot immediately see their need and its value. But yet novel enough to be seen as a bit different. It must not introduce concepts that are so foreign that it scares them away from trying it.  It must not be perceived as being bloated with features that do not address some known need. 

Developing and enhancing a product at this precise point is like surfacing the face of a wave, you need to be in flow state sensing the current need of the masses and moving with that need. Staying to far ahead keeps you in the early adopter stage, falling behind put you on the back side of the wave to be quickly forgotten.

The practice of Holacracy directly supports the flow state needed to surf the wave.  The principles of sense and respond apply to both the agility to adapt the product but also in keeping the entire organization constantly aware of the surf board and adapting its form to stay on top of  it.