Removing barriers to mainstream adoption

John W Lewis's picture
Chat Date: 
Thu, Mar 02, 2017

One of the major, and perhaps most disregarded, issues in the organization of innovation is understanding the overall value of an innovation at each stage of its adoption. In particular, for an innovation to diffuse through a population and result in adoption by the majority, requires its overall benefits to be positive.

There are numerous potential innovations which offer substantial advantages yet have not been adopted by the mainstream. The myth that the adoption of something new involves a monotonous uptake by increasing numbers of people is contradicted by books, such as "Crossing the Chasm", and models, such as the Gartner Hypecycle with its "trough of disillusionment".

With any innovation, it is easy to get excited about the advantages and to assume that the disadvantages can be easily overcome. In some cases they can, but in others they cannot.


Let's discuss this important issue during #innochat on Twitter on Thursday March 2nd 2017 at noon Eastern Time, based on the following questions:

  1. What innovations do you know that did not reach the mainstream due to insurmountable disadvantages?
  2. What assumptions do we make about barriers, and why do we ignore them?
  3. How can we accelerate the identification of disadvantages and barriers?
  4. How can we minimised disadvantages and barriers?
  5. How can we facilitate the overall process of diffusion more effectively?


The choice of this topic has been triggered by recent announcements of progress in one of the most visible examples of an innovation that almost achieved mainstream adoption, but ultimately was stopped, primarily by one unsurmounted disadvantage. 

An example of innovation boom and bust!

One of most visible (and audible!) examples of an innovation that did not reach mainstream adoption, despite huge efforts to develop it, is supersonic passenger aviation.

Supersonic military aircraft have a long history and continue in operation and further development today. However supersonic passenger aircraft hit a barrier. That barrier was, of course, the "sound barrier", but in a different sense. The adoption of the innovation was not limited by the speed barrier, it was limited by the sound: the sonic boom.

Whenever aircraft fly faster than the speed of sound, they generate loud shock waves (typically in pairs). Supersonic military aircraft generate them. For example, in the U.K., in this age of heightened concerns about security and terrorist incidents, the Royal Air Force frequently issues apologies for having shattered a few greenhouses while scrambling a pair of Typhoons to intercept and divert a suspect passenger aircraft.

The problem for supersonic passenger aircraft is that, because the sound of the sonic boom is unacceptable in inhabited areas, they are prevented from operating at supersonic speeds over land and restricts their speed advantage to routes over oceans.

There were numerous development projects in the 1960's which failed at various stages to reach the mainstream. National pride, in the UK and France, was invested (and still lingers!) in the Concorde, which achieved many years of commercial operations, but not profitably and not for a significantly large market. We have discussed that example previously on #innochat in: Flying Concorde Across The Chasm

At least one major corporation, Boeing, was brought to its knees having invested its future in the Boeing SST project, and barely survived the experience. The Russian Tupolev 144 ("Concordski") got airborne and was demonstrated, but ultimately also failed, as did other projects such as the Valkyrie in the USA.

But now NASA is making efforts to tackle the central problem: the sonic boom. Here are two reports on their projects:

A year ago: NASA Begins Work to Build a Quieter Supersonic Passenger Jet

Six days ago: NASA Wind Tunnel Tests Lockheed Martin’s X-Plane Design for a Quieter Supersonic Jet

If solutions can be found to reduce the sonic boom to acceptable levels, then supersonic flight over land might become acceptable and supersonic air travel might become viable.

However, just as likely as a market for commercial passenger services (and, possibly, more likely) is a market for supersonic business jets of a range of sizes. After all, if you can't have a multi-million dollar yacht that can plane (which is going faster than the waves on the water), maybe you can have a multi-million dollar plane that breaks the sound barrier (which is going faster than the waves in the air)!



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