Since I've been talking a lot about innovation, both in print and in person, I've been running through countless metaphors to make this point or that about the innovation process. My latest inspiration uses some well-known fictional characters to encapsulate the difference between invention and adoption: Who is the better innovator, Captain Nemo (Jules Verne's 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea) or Chief Engineer Montgomery Scott (Star Trek)?
Most people would probably choose Nemo. After all, his greatest invention, the Nautilus, antedated by decades the first real submarines. (The US Navy honored Verne's vision by naming the first nuclear submarine the U.S.S. Nautilus.) Previous military experiments with submersibles, such as the Hunley, seem primitive and almost comic compared to the sleek, powerful Nautilus, which was, at least in fiction, sinking enemy warships decades before U-boats became the terrors of the high seas. As an invention, the Nautilus was so new that naval experts assumed it was a sea monster, not something as novel as an underwater ironclad. Now that's inventiveness for you.
In the immortal words of Keanu Reeves in Speed, "Pop quiz, hotshot!" Answer the following questions:
On average, how long does it take for customers to implement your technology? (Include people using the technology in the definition of "implement.")
In all phases of a project (building the justification, drafting the requirements, selecting vendors, implementing the technology, reviewing its success), is there anyone in the customer organization who champions the project from start to finish? If not, when and how does the hand-off happen?
Is there anyone responsible for successful execution in each phase? Again, if not, what does the hand-off look like?
How does the project team convince people in their organization to use your technology?
Don't worry if you couldn't answer some, or even all, of the previous questions. You're not alone. Most technology vendors don't have anything but the most superficial understanding of how customers adopt their technology. Naming a few stakeholders isn't the same as understanding the adoption process, unless you think there's no reason to read Gone With The Wind if you can identify Scarlett O'Hara and Rhett Butler as the main characters.
Tech vendors have all kinds of reasons to understand adoption better than they do. When projects fail, and adoption doesn't happen, those customers are far less likely to stay customers. That's also a potential success story that you must cross off the list. And that's just the beginning of the problems.