What makes an innovation likely to succeed?


When we try and create something new, whether for a new startup or as a new product line in an existing company, what questions should we ask ourselves to increase our chances of success?

Everett Rogers, an eminent sociologist, came up with the diffusion of innovations theory that tried to show how ideas and innovations spread through societies.

He argued that there were five characteristics that people looked for when considering a new product – in essence asking themselves five questions.

1. Relative Advantage

People start by looking for relative advantage.

Is it better in some way than what we are doing now?

Does it help us do something faster or make it easier to do a complex task?

2. Compatibility

Many innovations aren’t adopted simply because they aren’t compatible with existing systems and processes.

One of the reasons Software as a Service (SAAS) appeals to people is because all you need to get started is a web browser.

There is no need to get IT involved and get permission to install new software, or worry about which operating system or hardware drivers are needed.

3. Complexity

If something is seen as too complex or too hard to do, people will be put off.

When a product needs extensive training before it can be fully used, then the chances of widespread adoption start to fall.

These days, if something needs to ship with a manual it’s probably too complicated.

4. Observability

Are the pros and cons of the innovation clear to anyone looking?

Quite often, we still work through a list of positives and negatives when considering a purchase.

Decision makers want to be able to see clearly what return they will get on an investment – a fuzzy set of benefits will probably make them nervous and less willing to commit.

5. Trialability

Can we try before we buy?

This is almost a given for most organisations now.

Very few companies have the reputation and market dominance to simply put an innovation out there and expect customers to buy it.

Most need to provide a trial or pilot period where customers can test and use the innovation before signing up for a contract.

6. Social and legal considerations

A sixth point, and one that is increasingly important, is around the social and legal aspects of the innovation.

Socially responsible products and businesses are likely to be preferred by buyers that are looking for a long term partnership.

And modern technology creates new legal challenges – for example, it’s easier to take pictures but which ones are legally acceptable to share on social networks?


In summary, if we can say yes to these six questions, we should increase our changes of succeeding with a new idea, innovation or product.

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