July 24, 2011

Early Adoption Syndrome

Posted in Learning tagged , at 1:00 pm by kristibroom

Image by shuuki

I like to think of myself as an Early Adopter most of the time. I like to find out about new technologies, and be among the first to try them out. I know I’m not alone in this need. With the rapid rate of new technologies available, and the increased features and functionalities being added to existing tools, there is broad opportunity to fall into what I’ll call Early Adopter Syndrome – that state of need to be among the first to explore…and judge new technologies.

But I’m definitely an Early Adopter Introvert. Aside from technology, I like to think things through individually first. As those who know me well will tell you, my best thinking happens while walking my dog…or in the middle of the night. I guess it’s probably a good thing I’m not an Extrovert with that time schedule.

My approach to learning technology follows the same logic. I am someone who will push every button, explore every menu, and try every option. I just prefer to do that individually. So when new social technologies, like Google+, arrive on the scene, I do like to get in early, but you won’t see early posts from me. I’m more of an “explore behind the scenes, gain some mastery of the tool, and then post” kind of adopter.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this notion of Early Adoption, and some of the benefits and downsides it might have in other areas. None of these are based on research. In fact, none of them are based on thorough observation…just scattered thoughts mostly based on my own experiences and those of people around me.

Benefits of Early Adopter Syndrome

  • Tolerance for change: One of the biggest benefits I have experienced is a sort of expectation that things will change that can transcend technology. So, for example, when changes happen to processes or structures at work, the time to react-deny-accept is much quicker.
  • Tolerance for “bugs”: Back in the day, technology was released when it was thoroughly tested, and all user documentation was in place. Not so today. With the release, evaluate, fix, update cycle, I see a growing acceptance that things may not work perfectly. Again, I think this transcends beyond technology, adding tolerance to life’s imperfections.
  • Opportunity and ability to provide feedback: With the bugs comes the opportunity to provide feedback. Not only is this an opportunity, it creates I think an ability to identify, specifically, what’s not working, and perhaps suggest solutions. “It doesn’t work” doesn’t seem to be heard very frequently.
  • Rapid learning: With rapid change in technology comes the ability to hone our skills in learning quickly. In addition, we also need to find the sources of information, which may not be a thorough user guide – it may be fellow Early Adopters.
  • Contribution to a community of Early Adopters: The follow up to the previous bullet is that, if you are so inclined, you can share your learning with fellow Early Adopters and the larger user community. That feels good.

Downsides of Early Adopter Syndrome

  • Intolerance for change: Tolerance for change is a benefit, but I think its evil sibling – intolerance for change can also appear. I see this when people rage against feature changes that affect their favorite functionality. Or, when people mistake updates for imperfections in previous versions, and signs that the developers must not be competent.
  • Expectation that others are as competent as you: Sometimes I think we forget that we are Early Adopters, and expect other users of the technology to know as much as we do. The need to remember to allow others to adopt at their own rate is important. I recently witnessed one Early Adopter responding rather harshly to another Early Adopter over something that the second person had yet to learn. She felt quite chastised for what was an honest “mistake” – it was something she had not learned in a technology that was new to everyone.
  • Early judgment of a tool based on limited experience: With the rapid release of technology, and the abundance of tools with which to adopt – early or not – I think it’s easy to make judgments of tools on what may be limited experience with them. Remember that many tools are in a “beta” stage, and so their full feature set may not be released – or even known.
  • Need to find the next big thing: Because there is this community of those with Early Adoption Syndrome, the competitive among us may be driven by a need to find the next big thing – to be the first of the first to discover something new. A little competition is healthy. Too much is not.
  • Leaving behind those less adventurous: There will always be those people who fall outside of the Early Adopters. In fact, if Rogers is right, most people will fall outside of it. The ability to communicate, interact and teach those who will fall in those later stages is an important task of Early Adopters. However, if we’ve already moved on, we all lose.

What do you think? What have you observed as an Early Adopter, or as someone who waits until technologies are more stable?

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