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Corn Farmers and Geeks- Adopting Technology Hasn't Changed in Years

What do corn and the latest tech gadgets have in common? Turns out that getting people to try anything new is the same for farmers as it is the folks on your remote team.

The only thing more frustrating for companies than not having the right communication tools at their disposal is having them and watching them go unused. The cost in license fees and lost productivity is hard to pinpoint exactly, but the frustration is worth about twenty points on your blood pressure.

"We have the tools but no one uses them" is one of the most common complaints our customers have. In researching the adoption cycle of technology, it turns out the first time anyone used the term "adoption cycle" was back in the fifties to understand why some farmers used new hybrid seeds and others didn't. Not much has changed, as it turns out.

See if these Iowa corn farmers bear any resemblance to the people on your team:

  • Innovators: These folks tend to always be scanning the horizon for new opportunities. On the farm, they have enough money to risk and tend to be regarded with grudging respect and more than a little suspicion by their neighbors. At work, these are the folks who are always trying to get around the rules or bugging you to try something they read in last month's edition of Wired. Not always right, but always first. Culture, corporate or social, matters. Some fields (engineering, for example) have more of these folks than others (not a lot of innovators in Amish country).
  • Early adopters: If you're an early adopter you're probably more involved in your community or company than most (which is how you hear about new strains of corn or cool tech) , tend to be younger than average and likely have either formal or strong informal leadership positions. They will usually ask for permission to try something as opposed to asking forgiveness so aren't as likely to be eyed with suspicion as the innovators are.
  • Early majority: Whether out in corn fields or cubicle land, these folks are likely to be informal leaders and experienced folks. They know a good thing when they see one, they just want proof of concept and to make sure something works before jumping on board. They tend to associate mostly with people in their own community (whether that's the small town or their own company) and so get their information internally. Until someone in their division says it works, they won't be signing up.
  • Late majority: Most people eventually get with the program. Whether it's peer pressure, company or government policy, or just finally seeing the results they eventually adopt whatever the new normal is. It can be frustrating to work with these folks but they eventually get the idea. The good news is once they settle on the new technology, they'll use it til it dies and not be whining about wanting the next new thing (a mixed blessing, I grant you).
  • Laggards: This is the 10% or so of people who just won't use a new tool, technology or process until dragged kicking and screaming- and even then the best you'll get is malicious compliance. These folks tend to be older ("the way I've done it for 30 years has worked fine, dagnabit") and in companies, might be holdovers from a previous company or regime with strong emotional ties to the company or industry's history.
What I like about research like this is that it helps to remember that it's not just you- the majority of human beings respond to technology or process changes in the same way and always will. I suspect even the inventor of fire had this problem.

Remember the key difference between innovation and change: when it's your idea it's innovation. As your team resists an idea or doesn't immediately embrace your latest brilliant idea, take a look at where the resistance is coming from and understand why it happens. It might lower your blood pressure a tad.

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photo courtesy of flickr user cloudsoup CC 2.0
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