Why innovations fail to reach adoption and how to bridge the gap

Most new innovations fail. Failure is an expected part of the journey leading to eventual success. But what can organisations do to give the good ideas - the ones with potential to create real change - the best chance of breaking out of the innovation department and gaining organisation-wide adoption?

Firstly, let’s clarify what we mean by ‘adoption.’ Adoption is not the same as scale - scale is when a product or service is used by a large number of different organisations, typically in different locations. Adoption happens before this. It’s when a product or service evolves from an innovation to being widely used & normalised within the founding organisation.

So, why do so many innovations fail to reach adoption?

We believe there are MANY reasons, and these are a few key causes that may be overlooked:

Organisational structure & capacity: Your organisation probably has an innovation team, but does it have dedicated adoption experts? Maybe not. Adoption requires org-wide behaviour change: a transition from one way of doing something to another, brand new way. Making this change happen requires dedicated experts. To reap true value from innovation investments, organisations should probably hire some (Adoption experts are usually titled ‘Transformation,’ ‘Acceleration,’ or ‘Change Management’ execs).

Unrealistic expectations: Organisational behaviour change happens surprisingly slowly - particularly within big, risk-averse, and time-poor organisations. Organisations have a tendency to prematurely abandon an innovation before it has had a fair shot of adoption. Inflated expectations on impact potential don’t help. Innovation can often be oversold as a silver bullet solution. As a result, it can only ever underwhelm on execution.

Magpie mentality: New ideas and innovations are always exciting. Old innovations are boring - especially if they aren't quick to make an impact. It’s hard to keep attention on an old innovation when shiny, new innovations full of promise are constantly emerging. Who wants to fund an old innovation? Magpie mentality can also result in rogue innovations happening that are disconnected from the org strategy - ones that are exciting, but not relevant to the organisation’s broader goals.

First impressions: First impressions of a product or service are really important, particularly when the users are time-poor. Unfortunately, first releases of products or services are often low fidelity and, frankly, not that impressive. They underwhelm users - especially those who aren't familiar with the concept of Minimum Viable Products, which are supposed to be incomplete. Often users trial the MVP, dismiss it as not useful, and revert back to previous approaches.

Measurement: Innovations often aren’t measured properly, or aren’t measured at all. If its performance is unknown, how can smart decisions be made about how to make improvements, know what it’s best used for, or reassure future users of its proven value?

Founder dependency: Innovations need a sponsor- a dedicated founder who will provide the innovation, love, support, and resources an idea needs to survive. The downside is that if a sponsor leaves, the adoption potential often goes with them.

So, how can we bridge the critical chasm between innovation and org-wide adoption?

Here’s what our team recommends.

1. Firstly, recognise adoption as a critical phase and skill set: Orgs often either focus solely on innovation or skip from innovation directly to scale. Understand that adoption requires a very different skill set, and resource it accordingly.

2. Create an adoption roadmap: From the start, create and share an adoption roadmap that clearly outlines activities, timelines, and quantified adoption goals. This is an excellent way to set and manage expectations, while helping the organisation to understand where they’re headed, where they are now, and a feasible roadmap for closing that gap.

3. Build ample runways: We estimate an ambitious yet achievable timeline from an innovation’s conception to adoption is roughly 3 years. From the get-go, ensure that resources and funding are ring-fenced for adoption’s expected timeline. Define a healthy adoption velocity that works for your organisation - one that creates momentum, but does not jeopardise the quality of the impact or the safety of the users.

4. Collaborate with end-users: This has two major benefits: Firstly, you create something that’s going to be useful to users’ lives and relevant to their needs. Secondly, when end users are involved in creating the solution, you increase the propensity for adoption because users already feel a sense of ownership and familiarity. These users then become product advocates and can encourage their peers to adopt the new product or service.

5. Launch Minimum Valuable Products: Products that are simple, but complete - not minimum viable products (MVPs). Learn why you should reconsider MVPs here.

6. Measure the right things: Innovation and adoption has to be constantly and realistically measured. You must ensure that you are setting realistic goals for the product or service’s life stage. At Here I Am, we like to measure products using a framework that loosely follows Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. We start with the safety and security of users, and as the product matures, ladder up to ‘adds value’ vs ‘previous approaches.’ Learn more about how we ensure the ongoing measurement of digital performance.

7. Manage expectations: Failure is a normal part of the adoption journey, and a great learning opportunity. When something goes wrong, we get wiser on how it can go right. Innovating isn’t a black or white, pass or fail process. When done properly, it’s an iterative learning journey that improves over time. Ensure the wider organisation understands this so they don’t abandon support before adoption can occur.

8. Mobilise the positive and the negative influencers: Identify and collaborate with the most influential people inside the organisation.These will be subject matter experts who are well connected and respected. Lean into the negative influencers - listen to their concerns and evolve products to address their fears. This can be a really powerful way to turn a critic into an influential advocate.

9. Bring the organisation on the journey: Cynicism and fear can often surround innovation - particularly when new products have a potential negative impact on the lives of vulnerable people. Sometimes this can result in the innovation owner giving the idea ‘air cover’ (otherwise referred to as ‘greenhousing’). Air cover is important, but hiding the innovation in a ghetto hinders adoption propensity. Instead, provide regular org-wide updates. Be transparent about the challenges, risks, failures, and what the team is doing to overcome them. Invite feedback, and close the feedback loop on any valid ideas or concerns raised.

Most importantly, understand the critical importance of adoption in ensuring great innovations reach their full potential.

To join our discussion about the journey from product innovation to org-wide adoption, connect with us on LinkedIn. We would love to hear from you!

Inspired by this post?

We love to share perspectives, thoughts and ideas on creating digital ways to include the excluded. If you have a problem you'd like to discuss, we'd love to hear from you.