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Software Adoption; New Wine in Old Wine Bags

January 30, 2008

People adopt software for different, but not dissimilar reasons.  Geoffrey Moore, in his book Crossing the Chasm, suggests that there are 4 groups that represent the most common differences in motivation and behavior as applied to technology adoption.

1. Early adopters represent a small segment of any organization and they adopt the software if they like the technology, if it combines power with innovation.
2. A 2nd larger group adopt based upon pragmatisn and power – adoption occurs if it represents a state of the art solution and other leading organizations are also using it… don’t want to get left out.
3.  A 3rd large group adopts technology because it’s required to complete a function.  Adopting technology isn’t actually very accurate, because they are intent on completing a task, and the technology, is just part of the process, no more or less than the technology of creating round pencil leads is noteworthy for people who use pencils with lead replacements.  They adopt technology when it’s mostly invisible.
4. The final group doesn’t adopt technology, they fight it, get someone else to do it for them or just ignore the requirement to use it until confronted and/or forced to use it or leave.

Yes, people have different reasons for what drives the adoption process, but underneath it there’s a required fundamental shift from old to new, from familiar to unfamiliar that Moore doesn’t talk about.

No one adopts new technology effectively when or as long as they are attached to old processes or old technology if you will.  Jesus commented on the process in a famous parable in the Gospel of Luke, where he stated, “And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the new wine will burst the skins (the older they are, the more rigid and inflexible they get), the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, new wine must be poured into new wineskins”… he goes on to add “”And no one after drinking old wine wants the new, for he says, ‘The old is better’ “.

When faced with new technology, it is easier to justify staying with the familiar.  It’s comfortable even if it isn’t the best solution.  The longer you’re satisfied with what you’ve been using, the more likely you are to frame it as a better option than anything new coming down the pike.  Inflexibility seems to accompany a history of some successes.  You might even be willing to get in a fight over it.

Here’s the thing.  New software solutions, and I’m not talking about an upgrade to an existing tool, represent fundamantal shifts.  Users don’t make shifts forward while still hanging on to the past.  E.g. before someone can adopt a new software solution, they have to change their mind.  They have to make a decision to let go of the past solution to make room for the new one.  You have to open your hand to have a hand shake.

It’s easy to spot users who haven’t changed their mind before being enrolled in an adoption process.  They make the old cowboy statement, “You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink” come to life.  They show up for training, but they don’t use what they learn.  They show up and are not engaged… and sometimes they don’t even show up.

There’s a leadership challenge that occurs at this type of adoption crisis that Friedman addresses in his book, A Failure of Nerve.  What do you do as a leader, with employees who haven’t changed their mind to allow them to adopt and successfully use new technology?  It’s a tipping point, a point of impasse.

It’s a big mistake to ignore the impasse.  To dance around it, to cover it up with more training… thinking maybe they’ll get it this time.  That doesn’t work.  On the other hand, if the staff resisting making the shift are important to the company, it can sure make the feet feel like dancing!

The lack of mind shift actually represents a fundamental break in engagement and alignment.  Something which many leaders, not just technology oriented ones, are discomforted in addressing.  But let’s write that up in the next blog, because it’s something that is very valuable to address. 

To summarize:  People approach software adoption in 1 of 4 patterns.  Underscoring all four patterns is the requirement of a change of mind, a shift from the old to the new.  If no shift takes place, predictably poor adoption success will occur.  Shifts are fundamentally tied to a deeper issue, alignment and engagement.  You want to address it all when you’re leading software adoption.

6 Comments. Leave new

I just found your blog/s for the first time. I have to catch up. Good articles.

Christian von Reventlow
February 3, 2008 3:48 am

Change of behaviour often comes before change of mind:

1. A change of behaviour can get enforced by a a leader through tight and crystal clear feedback loops. The system then seemingly has changed – but is still in an unstable state. That means will return to the former state once the feedback loops get loosened.

2. Change of minds happens once the individuals in the organization have learned, that this new behaviour is actually better for them as an individual – even without the feedback loop. Once that stage has been reached the leader can loosen up the feedback loop. In my experience it will take 1+ years of tight feedback loops to reach that stage.

Note that in the US engineering culture tight personal feedback loops are often percieved as non acceptable. It takes “the freedom away”. Plus its counter to the theme of “opposing authority”.

Thus the rich discussion about topics like accountability, performance orientation in many companies & books should interpreted more as lip service. Or even worse – we talk so much about it because we know its a true problem. And talking about it relieves us from the pressure to do anything about it. Like the kid in school with the book under his pillow at night instead of reading it and learning..

Thus if you are a leader embarking in change – pls never forget to understand what are the true values of your organization. And which are those only being talked about. And then building a game plan how to overcome that obstacle. Managepro helps you to clarify the obstacles and build a succesful game plan


Good comment on the basically the chicken & egg question – e.g. which comes first, change of mind or change of behavior?

I think your comment points out that ultimately both have to be in place for the change to become the “go-forward” habit of performance. However I think on some level it is more direct to operate with the target of changing the mind first, then the behavior; otherwise, you are correct the change of behavior takes a very long time for the mind to catch up.

Maybe an effective change process always has to involve both in roughly a parrallel process or it gets out of sync. Your thoughts?


I’m all for parable when trying to explain something, but I don’t get the Jesus connection and software.

If we are into parables like the Jesus parable about wine, then a people changing wine habit parable should go something like this:

Shoppers have been buying their bottles of wine and stuffing them into brown paper bags sense Margaret Knight invented the brown bag machine. Over a hundred years later supermarket chains are attempting to change shoppers habits from stuffing their wine in brown wine bags like Margaret’s and into green wine bags which you find at companies like winebags.com.

If we want to attempt to group how people respond to change, a parable more relevant to our daily lives might be more appropriate. Just another perspective at how people can be grouped. I am sure we can find parallel group habits of people changing from Knight’s brown bag and to winebags.com green bag as can be found in software acceptance.

I think it’s a far better parable and one clearly relevant to our times and wines.


Ken, Good comment. I didn’t do justice to that parable or include enough information. I did a bit better job in a hub page I put up on the topic at http://hubpages.com/hub/Software-Adoption-Patterns.

What I didn’t say about goat skins, and why they fit with human nature and change, including adopting new technology, is that apparently goat skins, stetch to accomodate the initial fermeting of the wine. But one they stretch they get a set and then when you put new wine in them, their previous set doesn’t allow them to adapt to the next round of fermenting with the new wine. Mind sets go along way to predicting adoptions of lots of new things, including technology. Let me know if that made more sense, or further clouded the subject.

Rodney Brim

What to Focus on First, When Introducing Software and the Accompanying Change
July 25, 2008 3:54 pm

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