Stretching to Touch the Future
Last week while shopping for a gift, I came across a poster with a picture of a rock climber reaching upward along a sheer face of mountain. The caption below read, You gotta stretch to touch the future.
It struck me that the initiative I’m focusing most of my energies on these days is about that kind of stretching. Those involved are working hard to find new ways of working with community leaders to build healthy, vibrant and creative communities.
The blessing and the curse is that the leaders are sprinkled across the province as are the staff and consultants providing community development coaching.
As a result we’re relying more on technology to support the interactions and resource sharing between and among those involved.
Sounds simple but the reality is that the technology to support community development doesn’t yet exist. This means we’re working to develop that technology with a smart and innovative woman named Dianne Renton from Niagara-based, Trendspire Canada Inc.
As you might imagine it’s not without its challenges. Users have difficulty seeing possibilities beyond what they are used to seeing in a typical organizational website. Few are able to see our vision of something that is more like a drop-in centre combined with a coffee shop and library. In other words, they are only able to see what is currently available rather than what has yet to be invented.
Those involved in overseeing the entire initiative have built the trusting relationships that allow open, honest and very direct feedback. As a result, in the course of a discussion about the challenges of trying to ensure an ongoing investment of time and resources in something that has yet to be invented, one of the team members bluntly referred to herself as a techno-midget and said she just simply did not like technology. Although she went on to say she knew it was important and essential for the initiative, she also admitted she would find it difficult to be the one charging up the hill waving the technology flag.
That honest and courageous admittance of her inability to be an early adaptor of technology helped everyone involved rethink and refocus plans for moving forward.
The bottom line is that not everyone is cut out to be an early adaptor. Even fewer are cut out to be innovators like Dianne.
A number of years ago, the late Everett Rogers, achieved academic prominence for his Diffusion of Innovations theory that addressed this same issue.
Rogers proposed that adopters of any new innovation or idea could be categorized as innovators (2.5%), early adopters (13.5%), early majority (34%), late majority (34%) and laggards (16%).
This means that typically there is a small majority of those who pick up quickly on ideas, don’t mind taking risks, and enjoy the experimentation and adventure. Some only adopt or change when the innovations have been debugged and evidence demonstrates their soundness and effectiveness. The majority are reluctant, often lag behind, and will need to be urged and pressed to change.
These categories provide a common language for innovation researchers. Each adopter’s willingness and ability to adopt an innovation would depend on their awareness, interest, evaluation, trial, and adoption. Additionally, people fall into different categories for different innovations.
So while my Niagara colleague Dianne is indeed an innovative techno-queen, the other is a techno-reluctant late adopter of technology. However that same colleague sure as heck is an innovator when it comes to building and sustaining the new partnerships and relationships that are essential to our initiative.
So should we be worried about this apparent lack of commitment to innovation and change? If we don’t want to change and we’re not very good at it, do we need to keep banging the drum about it?
If one’s business, department, organization or community has a positive reputation, a strong profile, credibility and healthy finances, it may not be as much of an issue.
On the other hand, if there’s room for improvement, you just might need some innovating and stretching in order to make sure you can touch the future.
Posted on 01-25-08
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