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Software Adoption and the Doorway of Discomfort

November 05, 2008

The emotional Doorway of Discomfort is absolutely primary for buy-in when the decision to adopt software involves a change in behavior from past practices.  Eg. when adopting the new software means replacing existing (read comfortable) practices.  

Kuhn wrote about this experience lucidly in his book, The Structure of Scientific Revolution.  Essentially pointing out that scientific thought through the ages (and most other human thought as well), does not change to adopt new models for thought and behavior, new paradigms, unless the old is first dismantled and de-constructed.

Let me share a more simple way to frame it.  We all know the phrase, “Don’t Fix it If it Ain’t Broke“.  Well, flip that phrase and you have the essence of the (3rd) Discomfort doorway.  In order to get the “early majority” to adopt software, in order to adopt a “Fix,” you have to make it unmistakably clear that the current practice is “Broke” and doesn’t allow people to perform at an acceptable level.

Read this carefully – Generating buy-in means you have to prove (pull them into an often discomforting demonstration of how) the current process is “Broke.”  You do this by asking the “Oh *&*#!” questions, as defined by Neil Rackham.

This means, if you are escorting people through this doorway, you need data.  You need to immerse people in enough recent data that points out the inadequacy of current practices, that they get uncomfortable and move from defending the existing to recognizing “they can’t get there from here” and join you in the adoption of a new solution.

Without this process, the very important “early majority” group, representing over 1/3 of your user group, see the adoption of new software as an intrusion upon their already busy schedule – a fix for something that isn’t broke… and the adoption fails.

Let me describe how this doorway works.

1. The door stays closed as long as this group is comfortable.  Think about that for a moment.  That means that to get though this doorway you have to raise discomfort.  The best way to do that without engaging in a direct personal attack is to surface both inadequacy and frustration with the limits of the current process

2. The doorway only opens when you raise enough data points that this group becomes uncomfortable with the results of staying with the familiar.

3. If leading this group through software adoption, as Kuhn points out, you need to show that the current software system fails at some point.  In terms of work performance that means you need to cite examples that prove that the current system incurs costs and risks that are no longer acceptable.  Costs that you are no longer willing to accept the burden of paying, and when confronted – this group is certainly not interested in having subtracted from their pay check.

4. When you point out the current system is wasteful and frustrating, you create a tipping point of Discomfort.  You need to highlight the (usually hidden) costs directly enough (e.g. create enough discomfort) that the door swings open and individuals in this group can move to adopt a better solution… or move on.

Bottom Line: 

1. More than 1/3 of any user group are made up of what’s been called the “early majority”.  Their adoption and buy-in is key for the rest of the organization.
2. No discomfort about the results of maintaining a “broke” system – means no adoption of new software for the early majority user group.

The decision to adopt innovation and new software is contingent on their movement through a doorway marked by discomfort and frustration with existing practices. Until the current process is proven to be broken, this group does not become discomforted enough to adopt the introduced software effectively. This may sound pretty harsh, but it is more a statement of reality and addressing it honestly.  It reminds me of “reality groups” that Glasser founded to drive behavior change in school systems in the 1970s.

Sidebar – Often the leaders I work with, who want to move their work groups ahead for improved coordination and collaboration, get uncomfortable about creating discomfort in others.  The tendency is to switch back to emphasizing attractive features and lowering learning fears.  If this sounds like you, remember this doesn’t work with the early majority group.  Also remember that without the early majority adopting the software, you really have a failed launch, with just early technology adopters using the software… who don’t have enough social power to directly influence adoption in the organization.

But one thing it does point out is that most leaders I work with have at least one or more valuable employees who they shrink from making uncomfortable, for fear of loss, and in so doing set up a situation of being “held hostage”.  More about that leadership issue as it limits software adoption in the next blog.


Software Adoption and the Doorway of Fear

Software Adoption and the Doorway of Attraction

The Emotions Behind Decision Making

Politics, Emotion and Buy-in

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