Innovation resistance – users postponing, rejecting, or even objecting/demonstrating against – is the sadly neglected child.
We are all familiar with its sisters: diffusion and adoption. Yet, we see innovations failing again and again. And not addressing innovation resistance is a candidate for why this is so. As well as for why 94% of executives are disappointed with innovation performance. Why? Well, in order to get adoption we have to:
- address Rogers’ classic adoption variables, and
- remove resistance (opposition, rejection and postponement) to the innovation
Too often we only see and address the point 1. Yet:
- “innovation resistance seems to be a normal, instinctive response of consumers” (Sheth and Ram, 1989)
- customer resistance is usually one of the greatest risks to innovation (Heidenreich & Kraemer, 2015).
Users’ rejection of Google Glass is perhaps a well-known example of innovation resistance. But we also once resisted coffee and fridges.
In this article, we look at innovation resistance and why it occurs. Overcoming resistance is the topic of this [link to come] article.
- Relative Advantage, and other adoption attributes, is not sufficient to ensure successful diffusion and adoption of innovations
- Customer resistance is usually one of the greatest risks to innovation
- This resistance is not the opposite action of adoption. Adoption only comes after removing resistance
- Innovation = Change. Requiring consumers to change everyday behaviour and/or alter belief systems. No wonder there is resistance
- We observe three forms of resistance, in a hierarchy: postponing adoption, rejecting an innovation and (actively) opposing an innovation
- Resistance arises from:
- Perceiving Physical, Economical, Functional and/or Social risks
- Going against Traditions & Norms
- Being different to current Usage Patterns
- Mis-aligning with Percieved Image(s)
- We need to:
- Minimise resistance before launching an innovation
- Observe for unexpected resistance after launch, and address if it arises
Let’s jump straight in by thinking about what is resistance.
What is resistance?
We are well trained to talk about attributes that speed up innovation adoption. Like making a new innovation familiar to users. The classic example being computer keyboards being QWERTY based so they were familiar with the then-existing type-writers. Or to be aware of different adopter types and alter our adoption strategies to match.
What we rarely talk about is resistance to innovation or how to minimise and overcome that resistance.
Resistance to innovation is when users actively decide not to adopt the innovation (for reasons other than value).
And we find that innovation resistance comes in a hierarchy, as shown in Figure 1.
I’m going to lean on Kleijnan et al’s “An exploration of consumer resistance to innovation and its antecedents” for definitions. Since they reviewed and synthesised several different papers to get to their definitions.
And for examples, I can recommend Sanchez, Williams and Andreu’s “Customer Resistance to Tourism Innovations: Entrepreneurs’ Understanding and Management Strategies“. It contains a lot of reflections from 57 entrepreneurs in the tourism industry on customer resistance (both business to consumer, and business to business). Also, Juma’s book, “Innovation and its Enemies: Why people resist new technologies“, looks at 600 years of innovation resistance.
Of course, the best resistance is no resistance. But let’s jump in with the next best, postponement.
Maybe you can see the value of a particular innovation, and it interests you. But you feel circumstances need to change/improve before you can adopt, then you are postponing.
This type of resistance we can see happening (in 2019) with electric cars. Many customers see the value of them. Reducing environmental impact, for example. But, the cars’ ranges and convenience of recharging are not yet at the level to get beyond Rogers’ innovator or early adopter types. They are close to being adopted by the early majority. But, people are postponing adoption until the range and recharge aspects improve.
Another example, from the Sanchez, Williams and Andreu paper, was one to help reduce food waste in restaurants. It had value – reduction in food costs, and reduction in food waste. But, chefs didn’t want to be seen as wasteful. And this innovation, at first thought, measured that wastefulness. Of
A worse form of resistance is rejection.
Rejection, as a form of resistance, is not rejecting an innovation due to a perceived lack of value (that is just a simple failure to adopt). Rather it is rejecting it for other reasons.
Imagine Dyson was to take the natural next step with their hand dryers and invent a full-body dryer. The value is there in terms of ecology – saving chemicals and water on the washing of towels. And in fact in the Sanchez, Williams and Andreu paper there is an example like this. But, there was resistance. This time the hoteliers rejected the innovation. No hotelier wanted to be the one owning the wierd hotel that guests laugh at. Especially now in the days of social media.
This rejection of this innovation is because of a “strong disinclination to use the innovation” (Rogers, 2013). In this case, it was too weird/different from the normal. Researchers talk about suspicion of new and unproven innovations, or of a reluctance to change the status quo. A little later I’ll just call this innovation = change.
In the worse level of resistance, we have outright opposition and perhaps direct action.
You may find users actively opposing your innovation. Perhaps even deciding to protest against it.
Think of the opposition that exists even today towards nuclear power. Or the growing opposition to electric scooters for hire littering our streets
In the extreme, this has been called by Davidson and Walley as innovation sabotage. And it has a long history. The most famous innovation saboteurs are perhaps the Luddites from the UK. Who, during the Industrial Revolution, broke machines that were being introduced to automate weaving.
Let’s now look at when this resistance can appear.
When do we encounter resistance?
There is a classic insight on adoption and rejection of innovations in Rogers’ “Diffusion of Innovation“. You can see it in Figure 2. And right in the middle is the stage we are interested in. The decision stage.
It is here that an adopter either adopts an innovation or rejects it. Adoption is “the full use of an innovation as the best course of action”. Whereas rejection is “a decision not to adopt”.
Rogers’ defines two types of rejection: active and passive. If we try and innovation and then decide to reject, then we are actively rejecting. Whereas, if we reject without thinking about adopting, then we are passively rejecting.
Rejection happens if we have not addressed Rogers’ adoption variables. That is to say that the user either finds it too difficult to adopt the innovation or sees no value in it. This also explains that sometimes we adopt an innovation only to reject later. Or an innovation we have previously rejected we might adopt later.
And this is different to resistance.
We can see rejection as being driven by “not enough value”, or “too complicated to use” etc. Resistance, on the other hand, is another set of variables. For example, am I going to look silly using the innovation (within my social system: Google Glass)? Am I going to be safe using it (will other road users be able to see me: Sinclair C5)? Am I going to be treated as a de facto criminal (self-service checkouts in supermarkets)?
In reality, the original set of adoption variables could have included variables covering resistance. As Ram, in his paper “A model of innovation resistance” says: “Adoption begins only after the initial resistance offered by the consumers is overcome”.
So we could update Rogers’ process to look like that shown in Figure 3.
What I am saying is this. Let’s assume the user decides to adopt an innovation. In order to get adoption we have to:
- address Rogers’ classic adoption variables, and
- remove opposition, rejection and postponement to the innovation
Too often, and this is the fault of the literature and the multitude of innovation consultants, we only see and address the first point. We rarely consider the second point.
What could be the reasons behind resistance? Let’s look at that next.
Reasons behind resistance
In my view there are two leading papers to discuss when it comes to innovation resistance. First is Sheth and Ram’s “Consumer resistance to innovations: the marketing problem and its solutions” paper and Kleijnan et al “An exploration of consumer resistance to innovation and its antecedents“. We can get a great literature review from the later, and the foundations from the first.
Sheth and Ram’s view
Sheth and Ram identified resistance emerges for two main reasons. First there is the potential for high level of changes in the consumer’s day to day living. Secondly the innovation may conflict with the users existing belief system. They saw resistance as being caused by barriers. And that led them to the reasons shown in Figure. Based around two broad classifications of functional and psychological barriers.
Within functional barriers we find usage, value and risk barriers. And within psychological barriers we find image and tradition.
This paper came out in 1989. Let’s jump forwards twenty years and see how things have evolved.
Kleijnan et al view
Kleijnan et al paper is really interesting to read. We find a comprehensive literature survey updating us from Sheth and Ram’s initial views. And we find an updated set of 7 reasons (shown in Figure 5) behind resistance.
Let’s quickly explore each of them. My discussion is based quite heavily on Table 1 in Kleijnan et al’s paper. That summarises many studies and findings and links to what type of resistance they drive. That will be useful in the section after this. The first four antecedents to innovation resistance are usually grouped as risks.
Risks: Physical, Economical, Functional and Social
We might be concerned that the innovation will lead to some harm for us or others. Or it could be unhealthy if we are are going to apply it to or in our bodies. This is physical risk. Often this is related to medical/food items and in particular highlights the opposition to genetically modified foods.Innovation is resisted because it comes with risk: Physical, Economical, Functional and Social. These have to be reduced for an #innovation to succeed. Tweet this resistance
Economical risk concerns itself with consumers thinking that the innovation will be a waste of economical resources. High tech innovations worry consumers a lot. It can lead to postponement as consumers expect future price drops, or technology being rapidly replaced.
Some innovations don’t come with full functionality on day 1. This is the Functional risk. Do you adopt now, knowing that better, or more complete functionality might be in the next version.
Finally, Social risk is where there is concern that the innovation won’t be accepted by your social group. Who really wants to be on a night out with a friend that has a camera built into their glasses? It certainly failed for Google’s failed Glass v1. However, Snap’s Spectacles has had better success – perhaps because it is explicitly aimed at social photos. Glass v2 is having better success too after shifting social circles from public to business.
Traditions & Norms
Innovations that are closer to traditional norms are more likely to be accepted. Remember the full-body air dryer from above! And that as a society we tend to create diffusion thresholds. Innovations that go beyond those will be resisted.Does your #innovation require doing something outside traditions & norms of your target market? Then you have to address innovation #resistance. Tweet this resistance
It is possible to draw a link here to Rogers’ work on variables that speed up adoption. In particular relative advantage and compatibility. The traditional example being computer keyboards staying with the QWERTY layout even if they don’t need to.
But don’t fall into a false sense of security. Even if something is compatible/familiar it may be against traditions & norms in a new area. This is exactly what we see with the full-body air dryer. We happily use air-dryers to dry hands in public bathrooms, but drying off after a shower proved a step too far.
We are creatures of habit. Doing something different requires effort. So it easier for us to postpone or reject innovations that require us to act/behave differently.We're creatures of habit. Does your innovation require us to do something different to now? Then you have some inertia to overcome, even if your innovation has great relative advantage. Tweet this resistance
Not to be confused with social risk. This is to do with the perceptions and associations in the consumers’ minds about various things associated with the innovation. Such as the manufacturer that produced it (brand stretch), the country of production (perceptions of quality etc).Race to the south pole using dogs?! It's not the done thing, old chap. We all have perceived images of brands, countries etc. Are you bringing an innovation to market that challenges those perceptions? Then you have to overcome… Tweet this resistance
There’s a long history of case studies on how perceived image impacts innovation (new products). From how Honda entered the US market. Through to concepts of Reverse Innovation shown in Govindarajan & Trimble’s book of the same name.
So, now we’ve seen a hierarchy of resistance as well as what could leads to such resistance. Next we’ll look at how these two things interact.
Mapping antecedents to the hierarchy
As you might suspect, not all antecedents to innovation resistance lead to all types of resistance in the hierarchy. Kleijnan et al’s work provides a mapping based on interviews they made. This is recreated in Figure 6.
Figure 6 is not the definitive answer. But it gives a framework on which to have a useful discussion. In use, I would look at all 7 antecedents and see how to minimise. To make it a little simpler to walk through, we’ll take each type of resistance at a time, starting with postponement.
Why an adopter might postpone
If you think the innovation will be cheaper next year then why buy straight away. Or there might be competing innovations. Then you might find consumers postponing until a winner emerges. They will not want to invest in a dead-end technology.
We’ve already discussed electric cars in this article. And they are a good example of postponing due to usage patterns. Until we have a charging infrastructure as good as the one currently for fossil fuels, then we will postpone adopting. Except for all but those that make short journeys.
Of course, you could start to argue that other antecedents are involved too. But this is the general view identified.
Why an adopter might reject
We find more antecedents involved in the rejection of an innovation. There are economic, functional and social risks. As well as tradition & norms and usage patterns.
Google glass is a good example of social risk leading to rejection (and perhaps the odd case of opposition). I found Kernaghan “Google Glass: An Evaluation of Social Acceptance” a really interesting read around both the social acceptance of Google Glass, and what social acceptance means.
Why they might Oppose
For opposing an innovation we add the physical risk to functional and social risks. Traditions & Norms are reasons to oppose just like Perceived Image.
Overcoming these three forms of resistance is an article on its own! But before we finish this article, let’s take a very simple example that is widespread in the marketing world.
Don’t forget the egg
This is a fun urban legend of innovation resistance and over coming it. But it makes a nice point to keep in mind.
Back in the 1950’s the Betty Crocker company launched instant cake mix. All the housewife had to do was to mix in water, stick the result into the oven, and wait for a splendid cake to come out. The legend has it that sales were disappointing.
To fix, the company considered altering advertising etc. This is still thinking in the mindset that the innovation is great and only needs people to understand and see that for them to adopt.
Luckily, the company also brought in a renown psychologist Ernest Dichter to look at the problem. He made the observation that housewives were feeling guilty about using the product (remember, it was the 1960’s). Housewives could not get emotionally involved with such an easy product. It felt like they were cheating their guests.
What Ernest counter intuitively proposed was to make the product harder to use. To leave something for the housewife to do. For example, take away the powdered egg in the mix. And to propose the housewife added the eggs herself. Now she is more emotionally involved in making the product.
Now, there are elements of truth in the above. And in terms of a good example of why resistance is different to not adopting, it makes a great story. One that is easy to remember.
Innovation resistance is a key aspect to address to reduce the innovation performance problem. We can no longer rely on assuming that because innovation has a relative advantage that it will be accepted by users. Nor that we just have to address innovation diffusion and adoption.
This resistance arises because innovation means change. And we know from change management theory that change is difficult. It comes in three forms that are in a hierarchy: postponement, rejection and opposition. And is driven by risks (physical, economic, functional and social) and challenges to beliefs (traditions & norms, usage patterns, and/or perceived image).
We find many examples where innovation is resisted. What we need to do is not abandon those innovations. But first, to apply strategies to minimise resistance before launch. And second, to apply further strategic moves to manage any resistance that arises after launch. Addressing resistance is the topics of my next article [link when done].
Resistance and Adopter Types
Sheth and Ram’s 1989 paper “Consumer resistance to innovations: the marketing problem and its solutions” is one of the main, and early, texts on innovation resistance. They linked levels of innovation resistance to characteristics of Rogers’ adopter types.
Remember that Rogers broke the target market into 5 distinct adopter types. These are: innovators, early adopters, the early and late majority and laggards. Each type being later to adopt than the previous type.
Sheth and Ram noted that “Innovators exhibit no resistance…Laggards have such a high level of resistance they do not adopt the product..for the other categories, resistance breaks down over time”. So we could draw a representation of resistance over Rogers’ adoption curve. I’ve made a go of that in Figure 4.
At a high level it makes sense. And we can imagine laggards as having more resistance to an innovation than, say, innovators or early adopters. Or rather that postponement is increasing as we move through the adopter types. Turning into rejection in some cases (the later end of the laggads, perhaps?).
However, let’s loop back to electric cars and consider an early adopter. We would expect them to have low resistance according to the above thinking. And therefore be one of the first to buy an electric car. But, if their journeys are regularly longer than the battery range of the car, there is not yet the incentive to buy, yet.
What we can take away is this. First postponement likely increases as we head along the adopter types. So we should put in place approaches to minimise that postponement. But there are other factors leading to postponement. And these factors are not related to the characteristics of the adopter type.
An insight into what those are comes from understanding what the introduction of an innovation means.
Innovation = Change!
One theme that comes through from the above and other empirical studies is that resistance is really a reaction to change. Sheth and Ram noted that an innovation may:
- create a high degree of change in day-day life
- conflict with the consumer’s belief structure
Our second insight then to realise that innovation equals change. And one thing for sure, not many people like change. Even if it is better for them."#Innovation = #change". It's obvious when we say it, but often we are seduced by the relative advantage of an innovation. But change is hard and often resisted. And this is why there is innovation #resistance. Tweet and change innovation success
The size of the change, and the control of that change, both factor into the level of resistance. If you make all your consumers suddenly have to change, expect opposition. We can see this time and again. For example, New Coke had a better taste according to taste tests, but when consumers found out it was going to replace Coke, there was opposition. When banks moved from local branches to online, customers opposed. At supermarkets, self-service checkouts remain shunned by customers.
So, why is there this resistance?
Innovation = Change
We tend to assume that all innovation is good and beneficial. Its an assumption that underpins most books, theories and practice of innovation. And as an innovation is beneficial, we just need to address diffusion and adoption so it gets quickly into use.
But innovation = change. We are introducing a new thing, and most likely a new way of doing something or interacting. And we know that humans are not good at change. Even if that change is beneficial.
In a company or organisation, we typically handle change through Kotter’s 8 accelerators. These are shown in Figure 1. And they are a 2014 update of the older, and classic, 8-steps for change management from Leading Change.
These accelerators are well-practised ways to manage change in an organisation. And when we introduce
But what about when we are outside an organisation?