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This article was published on June 18, 2010

The Stages of Innovation Acceptance

The Stages of Innovation Acceptance
Boris Veldhuijzen van Zanten
Story by

Boris Veldhuijzen van Zanten

Founder & board member, TNW

Boris is a serial entrepreneur who founded not only TNW, but also V3 Redirect Services (sold), HubHop Wireless Internet Provider (sold), and Boris is a serial entrepreneur who founded not only TNW, but also V3 Redirect Services (sold), HubHop Wireless Internet Provider (sold), and Boris is very active on Twitter as @Boris and Instagram: @Boris.

There are several stages of grief and they are well documented. It comes down to this: someone gives you some bad news. Depending on how bad it is you go through the following stages pretty quickly, or over a period of a few months:

1. Denial and Isolation.
2. Anger.
3. Bargaining.
4. Depression.
5. Acceptance.

I’m noticing a similar set of stages when it comes to innovative ideas. Nobody just accepts them. Most people actually start with rejecting anything thats new. That isn’t unreasonable either: most ‘new’ stuff fails. Hundreds of thousands of new things are tried out all the time and most don’t go anywhere. If you just react negative to most of it and declare “That won’t work” you will be right most of the time.

I carry my iPad with me all the time. You have no idea how many people come up to me telling me that “The iPad is going to fail”. They tell me it is too expensive, doesn’t support Flash, has a bad form-factor or they don’t give me a reason at all.

My favorite dumb ass comment: “It is just a big iPhone”.
My favorite reply “Yes, and you are ‘just’ a big baby”.

What does surprise me, every time, is the smug look on their faces when they confront me with their wisdom. Like they got struck with this entirely original thought that this thing isn’t going to work. They seem to expect me to say “Geez, you are right. Never thought about it this way. The iPad sucks!”

Wanna be original? Explain to me why it WILL work. Tell me how it could make a difference. What new ways you could imagine it could change industries. That would get me interested. Just dismissing it is too easy.

So here are the stages I can see with companies and institutions when it comes to innovative or disruptive technology:

1: “That won’t work. Just a geek thing”
2: “Okay, it is popular but they will never make money”
3: “Well, they make money but it is still a geek thing with will never reach mass market”
4: “Wait a minute, they made us redundant! Someone should stop them!”

It applies to Twitter, Facebook, the iPad, the iPhone, Google and countless of other start-ups  and innovative technologies out there. It is an unfortunate fact of life and something you will have to get used to if you are an innovative entrepreneur. As Howard Aiken famously said:

Don’t worry about people stealing an idea; if it’s original, you’ll have to shove it down their throats.

Get ready to do a whole lotta shoving…