We often ponder the question of when and how our clients should make decisions in so many areas: when to invest in a particular technology, whether to upgrade, what to include (and exclude) from various use cases and so on.
Jukka-Pekka Onnela and Felix Reed-Tsochas at the University of Oxford’s Said Business school are tapping into Facebook-related behavior and, among other things, tracking decisions by users about adopting various Facebook applications or not.
An article in NewScientist describes one of their findings which may apply just as well to IT buyers in big enterprises as it does to individuals socializing with their pals online. According to the article, their studies of Facebook application adoption show that both independent thinking and copying behavior are active (not surprising). Quoting briefly:
“There are two very different processes in action. …At first, when a new app appears it is adopted by users independently of their friends’ opinion. But if the popularity of an app crosses a threshold, its very popularity then seems to draw many people to adopt it, and its growth can become explosive….quoting Reed-Tsochas…We found very distinct regimes in which individual or collective behaviour dominates.”
The same pattern shows up in enterprise technology adoption. In new areas, innovators step up and make what feel like adventuresome selections, based on their insights into how the novel technology or service might enable the enterprise to achieve a new advantage of some sort, be it operational or strategic. But most enterprises wait until it’s clear that the innovation has “crossed the chasm”, seeking comfort in the choices of others so as to not seem rash — and to reduce risk.
Decades ago, we would have called this “mob rule”. These days, people have good reason to wait for the market to “make its choice” and then pile onto the socially anointed winner.
Think through many of the strategic service provider, vendor and technology decisions your organization has made over the past decade or two?
How much of an influence has the “industry consensus” become your decision, thus reinforcing the consensus notion? And where might it have led you to sub-optimize greatly by just following the mob?
Part of this plays to Nicholas Carr’s “IT Doesn’t Matter” arguments. Those whose investment strategies follow the crowd should really wait until the well past the peak of the market to buy.
Those who seek and can justify early innovation, however, would be better off acting before the masses do.
Where are you on this spectrum?
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