A conflict isn’t always a bad thing – Part 2

The process of creative destruction is not the only place where conflict proves to be productive in the long run. Here comes the demographic point of view.

When we have a closer look at the findings of Everett Rogers in his 1962 book Diffusion of Innovations, we will find that conflict is abundant in any population. Rogers discovered that a target population of an innovation could always be categorized on a classic bell-shaped curve divided according to following protagonists: Innovators (2.5%), Early Adopters (13.5%), Early Majority (34%), Late Majority (34%), Laggards (16%).

If you are about to introduce and organizational change you will find the exact same diffusion inside of organizations. Building further on Rogers’ observations, Geoffrey Moore’s key insight is that the groups adopt innovations for different reasons. According to Moore:

  • Technology Enthusiasts (Innovators) are explorers.
  • Visionaries (Early Adopters) are more geared towards exploitation. They are not especially bothered by the fact that the product doesn’t work. They are willing to make it work.
  • Pragmatists (Early Majority) want a product that works. They want a 100% solution to their business problem. If they get the 80 % that delighted the visionary, they feel cheated, and they tell their pragmatist friends.
  • Conservatives (Late Majority) buy products because they really have no choice. They are not reassured by having books about the product, because the existence of books implies the product isn’t simple enough to use. Conservatives will not tolerate complexity.
  • Skeptics (Laggards) are not going to buy, though they may talk other people out of buying.

In terms of project management it is obvious that the innovators and the early adopters will never oppose or object the changes you are implementing. The left hand side of the chasm is also known as the project cocoon: a safe group of like-minded people. On the right hand side of the chasm you will find people who want solutions and convenience. That is where you will find most conflicts – and this also represents 85% of your target population!

There is no way around it: if you are to build a solution for your organization, it will take a great deal of emotional intelligence. To quote Jane Goodall

‘Change happens by listening and then starting a dialogue with the people who are doing something you don’t believe is right.’

No need to mention that these interactions increase the quality and the usability of the solution you are building – to the same extent as they are grinding your nerves. But hey, the best consulting work is done with the heart breaking or overflowing!