Best not to be an early adopter

Just recently a few voices have been raised claiming that people in the meetings industry should become early adopters. In some industry sectors, people wear the label ‘early adopter’ as a badge of honour: they see themselves at the forefront of whatever technology excites them. These are the people who can be seen queuing outside Apple stores on the evening before the next iPhone is released. They’re the ones who frantically cast around for somebody to give them an invitation to take part in the testing of some new technology from Google. But I don’t think it’s a good idea in the meetings business.

The main reason is that it seems much better to wait until others have ironed out the bugs in a new gadget or technology. If you wait, you can also learn from their mistakes.

That said, it’s true that new technologies need people who want to be first with whatever’s new. For one thing, if everybody waits to see what happens, nobody buys it and it dies. The more early adopters there are, the faster the product will be to get to the mainstream market. So people who want to be first are needed, partly to help iron out any bugs but, more importantly, because these customers will show their new acquisition and boast about it to their friends. After all, if they’ve struggled to get it, they’re not going to keep it hidden; they want to prove that they’ve got something that is seen as being better than the product their friends have got.

The fact is that there are enough of these people in the meetings industry for the rest of us to be able to watch and wait to see what happens. They’re the ones who watch The Gadget Show and who are prepared to accept the shortcomings of a new technology. They’re also happy to cope if the processes for setting up their gadgets are a bit tricky.

In the business world, though, it’s different. Corporations in particular are very slow to adopt – consider how many major companies are still running on old versions of Microsoft operating systems. Sometimes this is because they need standardisation across the corporation and it’s a pain to adopt the next generation of software. Sometimes it’s because they want to be sure that all the bugs have been ironed out.

There’s a great deal of sense in this approach. Anybody who was swept along in the hype about Google Wave, for example, was left high and dry after a couple of years when Google decided that it wasn’t worth carrying on with it.

So I am very firmly of the opinion that it’s better not to be an early adopter. Let somebody else figure out how the new technology works. Let them find the drawbacks to it. Watch and learn from their mistakes and, if it’s working, take the time to figure out how best to build it into your events.

On the whole, there’s a lot to be said for being a mainstream adopter.

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