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The Five Stages of Technology Adoption and how AI fits in

Where do you fit in the Technology Adoption Model?

Have you ever wondered why some people or businesses jump on new technologies right away, while others wait until everyone else has adopted it before trying it out? Which is the best way to go? Do you sit back and wait until a technology is proven or do you dive straight in? Well, there’s a framework for understanding this process called the Five Stages of Technology Adoption.

First Wave of adopters are the Innovators

The first group to adopt a new technology are the innovators. They’re usually the adventurous risk-takers who get excited by new tech. They’re important because they’re the ones who experiment with new technologies and create a buzz around them. This is generally a very small percentage that the model estimates at being around 5 to 6 percent.

Early Adopters

The second group, the early adopters, tend to be more practical than innovators and adopt new tech for strategic reasons. They’re important because they provide social proof that a new technology is worth trying. The size of this group is edging up towards 15 percent.

The Early Majority

The third group is called the early majority. They tend to be more cautious than early adopters and need to see the technology working well before they adopt it. They represent the tipping point in the adoption process, because once this group starts to adopt a new technology, it becomes much more likely that the technology will become mainstream.

In my opinion, this is the sweet spot for those individuals and businesses that want to keep up, but don’t want to make any missteps or invest time and money on something that is not yet proven. This accounts for about 34 or 35%.

The Late Majority

The fourth group is called the late majority and curiously they represent the about the same size as the early majority. They’re often skeptical and need to see widespread adoption before they try a new technology. They can be a significant hurdle in the adoption process because they’re resistant to change and can slow down the adoption process. Many old school managers and long-term business owners (we have always done it this way!!) fall into this category, which is why (I believe) it is important to have young energy and diveristy of age and skills in your business.

The one group you DO NOT want to be in – The Laggards

The last group is called laggards and are an alarmingly 15 or so percent. They’re the last to adopt new technologies and tend to be resistant to change, only trying new tech when they have no other choice. COVID forced many laggards to get on board with services such as Zoom, cloud computing and other services that support working from home. This is a dangerous group to belong to as you are risking giving your competitors to much of a head-start and may start to fail the expectations of your customers which means your loyal base may start to shrink.

The Tech Adoption cycle is getting faster all the time

The speed of the early stages of technology adoption has increased in recent years due to the rise of social media and other online platforms. Early adopters can quickly spread information about new technologies, and this leads to more rapid adoption by the early majority. As a result, businesses that adopt new technologies early can gain a competitive advantage over their competitors, but there are more and more jumping in at the early stages than ever before in history.

The dangers of being in the Laggard group

Let’s take Kodak and print magazines as examples of technological laggards that did not adapt to new technology fast enough and went out of business. Kodak was slow to adopt digital photography and as a result, lost its dominant position in the photography industry. Print magazines that were slow to adopt digital publishing have struggled in recent years, while those that adapted early have been able to survive and thrive. With tech changes and the rate of change happening faster and faster all the time, the longer you remain a laggard, a dangerous place to dwell.

Understanding the five stages of technology adoption

The five stages of technology adoption are an important framework for understanding how individuals and organisations adopt new technologies. The early stages of technology adoption are occurring faster than ever before, and businesses that adopt new technologies early will gain an competitive advantage.

The risks associated with not adopting new tech soon enough is exposing some businesses and leaving some sectors open to major disruption. Businesses and sectors that are slow to adopt may find themselves left behind by their competitors and threaten their very survival.

How does the tech cycle affect you and your business?

Think about your capacity for risk and where you have sat in the tech adoption framework over the years. Think about a technology that you were an early adopter of, or a technology that you were resistant to until it became mainstream. Good examples are how quickly or slowly were you to try out Facebook, Instagram or Twitter or other social media. Does your business still use desktop installed software or have you moved to cloud computing? I am sure you can think of plenty of other examples.

Have you moved from one category of the model to another over the years? From what I hae observed, when people start to gain benefits from learning new technology, the faster the fear of change starts to drop off and confidence builds. This makes them more likely to adopt the next new ‘thing’ faster next time, potentially pushing them from a late majority to and early majority.

How Does AI Technology fit into this model?

And now, with the rise of AI technology, where do you see yourself in the adoption process? Are you excited to experiment with new AI-powered tools, or are you more cautious and waiting to see how the technology develops? By reflecting on your own experiences with technology adoption, you can gain a better understanding of how you approach new technologies and where you may need to adjust your strategy to stay ahead of the curve so that you do not end up in the laggard group.

AI is moving so fast that the lines between the Innovators and Early Adopters stage is blurred and we are barrelling forward head-first into the Early Majority stage. Strap yourself in, it is going to be an interesting ride. I would encourage you to join the Early Majority, this technology is here to stay.


Suzanne Burke
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