The Flow of Technology Adoption Reverses.

This week I listened to the CEO of a large technology firm I’ve been working with share his views on the future. One small comment he made struck me. If he is right, this could have radical implications for technology-based businesses worldwide. He said the flow of technology adoption is reversing: where once corporations drove adoption, increasingly consumers are in the driver’s seat.

We see this shift playing out in the battle between BlackBerry and the iPhone. The BlackBerry represents the old model—corporations influencing consumers—and the iPhone represents the new model—consumers influencing corporations.

When BlackBerry first launched, it created a device that corporations loved and end-users did not. When I was at McKinsey I was on a team working with an early partner of RIM, so we were one of the first users of the first BlackBerry device. The truth is, we hated the device. We called it the digital leash. It offered no voice capability—it was not a phone—it just pushed black and white emails to us. We much preferred our mobile phones.

RIM built a device that met corporate needs at the cost of end-user needs. The device was safe and reliable, with no bells or whistles.

The strategy worked. RIM dominated the corporate sector and only then began evolving their devices to appeal to consumers. The BlackBerry dominated the smartphone/PDA space for years.

Now in my corporate trainings I see more and more people with iPhones. We are seeing consumers demanding their companies adopt the iPhone and we are seeing corporations comply. The flow of adoption is shifting.

So the battle between BlackBerry and the iPhone represents a battle between the old and the new, the old model of corporations being early adopters and influencers to the new model in which consumers take that role.

This has immense implications for technologies firms around the world. The old “S-curve” adoption model that we used to build business plans put corporations at the front. Now, depending on how the iPhone-BlackBerry battle evolves, you need to consider flipping that curve and putting consumers up front.

Ask yourself:
1) Who are my early adopters and influencers?
2) Who are the secondary adopters?
3) If those two roles switched, how would I change my product or value proposition?
Consider doing that now.

Kaihan Krippendorf (, a founding Fellow of the Center for Leadership and an adjunct professor in the College of Business Administration, is the author of Hide a Dagger Behind a Smile and The Way of Innovation. This article was originally written as an entry for his blog “The Outthinker: Mavericks that Out Innovate the Competition.” The opinions expressed in this column are the writer’s and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of either FIU or the College of Business Administration.

View all articles by Kaihan Krippendorff.

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