This week authors J. Thorn and Crys Cain discuss when to adopt new technology for yourself or for your business based on where you fall on the Rogers Curve of Innovation.


Crys: Welcome to the Author Life Podcast. I’m your host, Crys Cain, with my cohost, J Thorn.

J: How’s it going, Crys?

Crys: It’s good. It’s weird to see all y’all like moving into not winter because my brain is so stuck on it just being freezing up there right now. And the worst part is like a week ago you had snow.

J: This is the time of the year where you can’t even… I don’t know. I know it’s like this in a lot of places, but it was like, I ran on Monday morning and it was 74 degrees, and on Wednesday morning it was 27.

Crys: That’s wild.

J: So yeah, that’s kinda where we are right now.

Crys: Yeah. And if anyone’s curious about Costa Rica weather, we are moving into our winter, which is rainy season. Even though we are north of the equator, socially this is referred to as winter because it is the colder, wetter season. So you are heading into summer, I’m heading into winter.

J: There you go.

Crys: All right. So this is our last recording of the month. This will come out the first week of May, but I’ve really been trying to do these kind of emerging tech talks because that’s something that we’re both interested in. And the thing that I came up with is: when should I adopt new tech for myself and my business?

And not only will we talk just about the full concept of that, but I want to talk about examples, both of the new tech that we’ve been talking about, like NFTs and blockchain and all that, but also some stuff that used to be new that’s now becoming mainstream and talking about the process of when we decide that it’s good to bring in our business.

I don’t really know where to start with this giant topic. So do you have a thought on where we should start?

J: Yeah, it could be very emotionally laden. And so I want to acknowledge that upfront. Generally speaking, people who don’t understand the technology, fear it. And so you bring in a strong emotional component, and people will have visceral reactions to conversations around technology. But I think where I’d like to start is the Rogers Curve. Are you familiar with the Rogers Curve?

Crys: I’m not.

J: Okay, so I’m sure we can Google it and find it. I think it’s technically called the Rogers Adoption Curve.

Crys: I think I know what that is but didn’t know the name.

J: Okay. Okay. Cool. So it’s like a standard bell curve and it shows where the population sits. And I forget what the labels are, but like at the far left you have the early, or is it the far right? On one of the ends, it’s like you have the early adopters, right? So these are the people who are like camping out on the sidewalk, waiting for the new iPhone. They’re the ones who are jumping into technology when there’s no rules, there’s no path. Like these were the early internet entrepreneurs, like they find that exciting, exhilarating.

Crys: Basically the only people who got the Google glasses.

J: Yeah. It’s typically those people that function in the high risk, high reward area. So those would be your tech venture capitalists who made a ton of money. But there was a lot of risks too, and a lot of people lost a lot of money. So that’s one end of the curve.

And then at the far other side of the curve, you have the laggards. And these are the people who like don’t have a smartphone yet. They wait until the last possible moment. They fight the technological change. Like they want to hold on to what they have. They don’t want to adopt new things.

And then you have gradations in between. And you have the majority of the population who sits like right in the middle, as you would expect on a bell curve. You have the majority of people who are not necessarily out there on the bleeding edge, but they’re also not falling behind either.

And the reason why I think that’s important to talk about to set the framework for this conversation is that you have to know where you are on the Rogers Curve. And it won’t take long. If you look at one, you’ll probably be able to see like, oh, that’s where I am. Because I think that is what determines when you look at new tech for your business. Because if you are a laggard, or even not that far out, let’s say you’re a little you’re to the right of center, so you’re not a lagger, but you’re certainly not in the early adopter phase, then you’re going to be the type of person who’s going to want to sit back and see how things play out.

 There’s no judgment there. Like we need to go out on the bleeding edge and experiment and break things. And we also need people to hold out until the last minute to make sure we’re heading in the right direction. Like we need everyone there. So I think for your business, for your particular business, it’s extremely important that you have some sort of self-awareness as to where you are on the Rogers Curve, so that you know how you can interact with new technologies and new trends.

Crys: I had to look it up. So here are the labels from earliest adoption to latest adoption, and that’s innovators are the first one. They’re the smallest, it’s two and a half percent. And then your early adopters, which I think is where you tend to set. Then there’s early majority, I think which is where I tend to sit. Then late majority. And then the laggards.

J: Thank you for looking up those labels. I couldn’t remember them from memory. But yeah, absolutely. And I’ll bet you looked at that curve and you’re like, yep, I’m right there.

Crys: And I even knew where I was before I looked at the curve and didn’t know what the name was.

J: Yeah. And I think that’s important too, because we’ve talked about comparisonitis before, and I think it’s really dangerous. You certainly don’t want to put yourself into a vulnerable position because you feel like you should be thinking a certain way.

I have to be very careful, in that being an early adopter, there might be a few things I’ve been an innovator on, but generally speaking, I’m an early adopter. I tend to jump on things really fast. I get really excited about them with the understanding that they’re not all gonna work. But I have to be really careful that I don’t put pressure on people around me to adopt that same mentality because some people are not ready for that. And so I think I definitely have to be cautious.

And I think the way that I’ve been thinking about it, for others who are listening who might be early adopters, is that I’m not interested in converting people. Like I’m not a missionary. I’m not trying to win someone over to a particular side. What I’m basically saying is, here’s what I’m doing, if this is of interest to you, come on with me. And that’s it, right? There’s no sort of pressure there. There’s no sort of ‘you’re doing it wrong’ or ‘ you’re stupid or old’ if you don’t. I’m basically saying this is where I’m headed, if this is of interest to you, then come with me.

I don’t know. I think that’s a good approach. I don’t know, but that’s kinda how I operate.

Crys: Yeah. And so many of the conversations we have around business, whether it’s things for the community or ideas that you’re running past me and several other people of like things that you want to do, because I am a later adopter than you are, many of the kind of devil’s advocate things I’ll throw at you are like, is the market ready for this? Like, yes, you’re really excited. Yes, there are things you can be doing to fuel that excitement. But is the market ready for you to move it to them as well?

J: Yeah. Yeah. And that’s a real thing, right? If we talk about a specific example, what’s happening in web 3 and NFTs in the publishing industry, I think it’s safe to say that the general populous is not ready to read NFT books. Like they don’t even know what NFTs are. We’re not even in full adoption of eBooks yet, and eBooks have been around for almost 15 years.

There’s two ways that someone like me approaches this. I have to walk the line between my excitement about the potential versus the reality of the people I’m serving. That’s one thing. And then in another area it’s, like, okay, then maybe I can identify another place where the consumer or the customer, for lack of a better term, is ready for it.

Music is a good example, right? Like the music industry and fans of music, I think generally, are far farther along the adoption curve on web 3.0 and blockchain than readers are. It’s not a judgment, that’s just my observation. So if I were going to do something innovative or crazy or experimental, it might be better for me to try it in some sort of music space where those folks would adopt it, would try it. Whereas, in another space they might not.

Crys: The example that I want to bring up, that I feel like will be really relatable for folks because most of us have at least a basic knowledge of it, is Kickstarter. Now, Kickstarter is interesting because depending on your industry, you’re at a different point on that adoption curve then another industry.

So like video games and tabletop RPGs are in the late adopter phase, I would say. Like, this is standard. You go to Kickstarter if you’re a small, not necessarily small, but like Kickstarter or Indiegogo, like these are places that you go to start your video game or to pay for it or whatever. That’s very common. People are used to that.

For books, now, thanks to Brandon Sanderson breaking the top funded Kickstarter of all time, we’re moving out of early adopter phase. It’s been an early adopter phase for a really long time, and we’re still in early adopter phase, but we’re nearing that center point of the bell curve. And so it’s becoming emotionally a lot more assessable for a lot more authors to consider how they might go about Kickstarter.

One of the things that I think you can look at to see where a technology or a platform is on the adoption curve is how many resources there are to tell you how to do it. And specifically for your industry. So like right now, there’s very few resources on how to use blockchain and NFTs, like telling us how to, as authors, to take advantage of this today. Joanna has a few out, you’re working on projects that will hopefully help you create some resources that people can learn about them. But it’s so new still, like there aren’t any standard practices for authors.

Whereas Kickstarter, Dean Wesley Smith has a class, Monica Leonelle and Russell Nohelty have a book. I believe they also have a class, not a hundred percent certain on that. And there’s probably 20 really good ones that I don’t even know about. And that’s one of the ways you can gauge like how far something is in mainstream for your industry.

J: Yeah. And I think you have to remember that everything is a tradeoff. There’s not one right path. There’s not one sort of pain-free approach that you can take. If you’re an innovator or an early adopter, you get what entrepreneurs called first mover advantage or early mover advantage. You’re new into a marketplace, there’s not a lot of competition, no one’s really sure what’s going on. If your timing is right, you can really establish yourself as a pioneer, like you can be one of the first people and that is a reputation you can build. And there’s their social currency involved in that, there’s a possible financial gain that you can get in that.

At the same time, you can be burned. Like you can invest in some technology that doesn’t pan out, or it changes, or you could literally invest in a technology and lose money. If you look at the flip side, if you’re a laggard or you’re a late adopter, then you’re not risking a lot. Like you’re in a much safer place, but now the rewards are less. So if you’re an author getting into Kickstarter now, so is everybody else. And so you just have to understand that there is that trade off. And I think in an ideal situation you would want to match your personal level of risk with the potential upside you hope to get and then find yourself somewhere on that curve.

Crys: Yeah. I think one of the questions that you can ask yourself to very quickly figure out is, do you get really excited about figuring out the potential for things and testing over and over and spending a lot of time figuring out how they can be done? Or do you like following guidelines to see what are best practices for already doing it?

J: Yeah, that’s a great approach. And again, like our industry, the world in general, needs both kinds of people. It’s not an either-or kind of thing. So you can be perfectly content landing in one of those camps, but you gotta be deliberate about it. Like you have to be intentional and you have to be self-aware and think about where you are.

I think the worst thing you could do right now, especially in a time of such change, is to just float along with it and not be intentional about where you belong or where you fit in. Because then you just become a victim of circumstance and I hate to say this, but then when you’re one of those authors crying on the boards or social media about how you lost such and such, or you don’t know what’s happening here. Like you just don’t want to be a victim of circumstance. You just want to know where you are, stay in your lane, and play to your strengths.

Crys: Well, I think our question for our listeners is quite easy this week, and that is to tell us where you think you fall along the Rogers Curve of Innovation.

Thank you so much for joining us this week. If you would like to join this conversation in real time, we’d love for you to pop over and check out what The Author Life Community is all about.