Barriers to adoption

Ever get the feeling that you are working in a mental asylum? Of course, I’m not talking about any of my client companies. They are all completely sane and sensible. I’ll skip over the fact that the defining experience of working in one of their offices is being pelted with Nerf gun pellets at regular intervals.

Ten years ago I had the interesting experience of moving from what had been a start-up to a big corporate. Not only was Kodak huge, it had a lot of history, it was based on the other side of the continent and it was an old time manufacturing company that was going down the tube but had yet to face up to the fact. You can still see it struggling with this in recent advertisements in American Cinematographer: “Film No Compromise”. Wake up and smell the coffee Kodak, film was dead 10 years ago.

One of the wackier things I discovered there (and it was a year packed full of wacky stuff) was George Eastman’s devotion to the International Fixed Calendar. In 1926, George wrote about “The Importance of Calendar Reform to the Business World”. In this short article, he explains how the variations in the length of the calendar month cause all sorts of problems with the proper management of a modern business. I’m sure you are aware of this and have frequently stumbled over the 11% difference between the length of March and February or the shocking 17% difference in the number of working days in those months. And, that’s not even mentioning the vexations of a “wandering Easter”.

Many European businesses work around this by managing by the week or 4 week period, but this simple solution was not enough for George, he wanted the whole calendar and its months to change to suite his business efficiency. So George proposed adopting the Cotsworth Calendar with its 13 months each of exactly four, seven day weeks. The fact that this required inserting a new month “Sol” between June and July appeared not to be a serious barrier in his eyes. Nor did this rational man appear worried by the fact that every month would have a Friday the 13th.

This was the official calendar of the Eastman Kodak Company from 1928 to 1989.

Surely the man who was responsible for developing the first film in a roll and giving us the “You Press The Button and We Do The Rest” Kodak camera, would know something about adopting new technologies? Surely, this man who had developed the flexible transparent film that was to be pivotal to the development of the motion picture industry, would have been able to spot a winner? Nope.

Did he have any sense of history? Our current Gregorian calendar was created by a papal bull in 1582. Pope Gregory XIII choose not to deal with the disparity between the then Julian calendar and the actual solstice (a difference which had grown to 10 days) by skipping leap days for 40 years, but to make the correction in one hit. When the British Empire adopted in 1752 there were riots over the lost days (11 by then). Listen to history George; 170 years delay to bring in a necessary correction and it still provoked riots. Dope.

If we want our innovative products to be adopted, we do have to make sure that they offer real, tangible benefits to those we want to use them. It is a lunatic error to expect other people disrupt their lives because it will offer benefits to someone else (George’s management team). They won’t and if you force them, they are likely to riot.

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3 Responses to Barriers to adoption

  1. Tony Marks says:

    Excellent post. Enjoyed reading it very much.

  2. Andy Ballingall says:

    I agree with Tony. This one cracked me up. It reminded me of the well meaning souls who have tried to introduce decimal time. At least they had loftier reasons for suggesting change. (Either that or they owned a clock number factory.)

    P.S. Thanks for reintroducing me to Dilbert.

    • Chris says:

      Thanks Andy, for me the whole story encapsulated the craziness that was Kodak. What we, the employees, enjoyed as the Kodachrome Moment.
      Another was my division (that had 98% of a shrinking $1bn market) struggling with the order from on high to “grow 10% year on year”.
      Yep; Dope.

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