Understanding your place on Rogers' bell curve

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A couple of the things I've learned about from some of the people I mentioned in this post are the technology adoption life-cycle and the Rogers' bell curve. Click on the image, courtesy of Wikipedia, for a sharper graphic:

* This image published in accordance with terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License, and the Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 License.

The links above provide more detail, but the brief summary is that ideas spread through a population first by reaching innovators, then early adopters, then the early majority and so on. Sometimes ideas make it out of the "innovator" group and other times they don't. It is the ability of an idea (or a product, service, etc) to move into the early majority and the late majority categories that cause it to become mainstream.

Most of what I've read and heard about generally seems to be in the context of understanding your place on this curve for the various things we consume, whether your idea could flow through the population, and who you are creating things for. You may, for example, only want to create something for innovators or laggards/very late adopters.

It seems that there's a much less often discussed (although it's certainly possible I've just missed the discussion), but very important aspect of looking at this curve and understanding where you fall on it from a creative and innovative standpoint. This is something I've been thinking about a lot lately, and I think it can help us figure out how we can all start creating something right now, if we want to.

Let's take my mother as an extreme example - she is comfortable checking email and surfing the web a very little, and learned to use Skype because it allows her to see and talk with her grandchildren even if she's far away. That's about the extent of her knowledge on how to use the internet. If she were to decide to start a new company, where would she be more likely to succeed - teaching the elderly how to use email, or trying to teach high school kids how to use WordPress?

Her innovative energy, right now anyway, would be better spent on creating something for those who are a little further to the right on Rogers' curve from where she currently resides. To me, my mom may not be a technology innovator. But to a grandparent living in Florida who just learned how to use Skype, she might be the most tech savvy person they know.

You don't need to be an "innovator" on Rogers' curve in order to create something.

The other benefit of understanding where we fall on this curve is that it can help us direct our energy in the right place. Let's take someone at the other end of the spectrum from my mother, say at the front end of early adopters. If with just a bit more energy (learning a new programming language, understanding a new design concept, etc.) they could dramatically increase their innovative potential then maybe that's where they should be focusing their energy. Maybe they shouldn't try to create something for all those people to the right of them quite yet.

It's up to each of us individually to figure out how and where to spend our innovative energy.

One thing that seems to be true in any case though, is that as we begin to create things, we move further to the left on this curve. The process of creating and teaching requires us to learn and understand more about technology. In turn, we reach another level at which we're able to innovate and there's another group of people that we can help.

This process however, at least with me, can create an internal struggle. I realize now for example, in a way I hadn't before, how closely intertwined design and technology are, and I think I'm definitely further to the right on Rogers' curve from a design standpoint than say an "internet" standpoint.

There are times when I come across or am introduced to a website like FictiveKin or Sofa and I feel like running and hiding. How dare I put something like the Duarlander or the GoFind! sites on the same internet as them! And I seriously wonder, would they be mad at me for making their internet less beautiful?

The things is, we have to practice, and the nature of the internet requires that we practice publicly.

So the best I can tell is that if we're honest with ourselves about where we are on this curve, then there is someone for whom we can create something. And as long as we're trying to learn from the people to the left of us, then we're respecting what they've created so far. We're simply playing our natural role in the evolution of an idea - and conscious that we don't want to ruin anyone's "favorite slice of the web" as Seth Godin wrote about in this post.

I think this is a pretty good place to be.


I feel like I should mention, when I was talking about the Duarlander site above, I was referring to the old one. I'm very happy with the new one and think it's really awesome.

The GoFind! one's pretty decent too, my point was simply that there are some others on a different level entirely.