Getting people to use your technology: Thank you but no thanks

Thanks but no thanksRecently when I was in West Africa, I was chatting with someone who is the head of a local organization about technology project.  The project would benefit agriculture in a rural community.  The organization’s solution is good, she was saying, “So how do you get people, in particular the BBCers (born before computers) to use it?  How do you convince them that this is efficient, faster, easier?”

“You don’t,” I said.

She tilted her head to one side, looked at me questioningly and reiterated, “It is a good technology.”

“I am sure it is.  But here you are talking about behavior change.  You are not talking about technology,” I replied.

Again, an inquisitive face looking at me.

“Ok, so you mean like when the iPod came out and people didn’t know that they wanted it. Then they saw what it could do.  Now the iPod, iPhone and iPad are part of everyone’s life?”  I asked.

“Yes, something like that.” she replied.

“Well, that depends on many things. Is the need really there? Why would they want to use it?” I continued to ask for more information.

She responded, “Because it will help them.  It is a problem that they have, and we have a solution to address it.”

This organization uses human-centered design, does focus groups and testing.  The stuff that you are supposed to do when designing a product.  But the issue still is why would someone use it, even if it is faster and easier?

Let’s say that these people check it out. It’s ok.  They may adopt some but not the whole thing.  That’s because with these other things, it works just fine the way they do it. Why change?  Noone is going to change because someone else thinks it is the best thing ever.

I tried to explain the law of diffusion to my new acquaintance. Like others, I learned first about it on the Simon Sinek’s  TED talk on Why Great Leaders Inspire Action.

Early adapters – Who is using it now? Anyone?  Why?  Find out why they like it.
Use them as a starting point.
Influencers – Chief/head of a local community.  There always is one.  Who is that?  Have you talked with them?
Government – Do they get it?  Are they supporting it?  Who are the district people in that community?

You say that the technology is faster, easier and more efficient.  What are those reasons?   Confirm with those early adapters.  Ask them.  I bet that many of the ways that you think are more efficient are ones that they think are foolish.  They also probably have ones that you would have never, ever thought of.

Support those early champions however you can.  Be there for them.

What’s in it for me? Why should I change?  If someone has been doing something for a long time, why do you think that I should change?
Price – What is the price?
Effort – How much effort is to learn?
How does it effect usual habits?  – Is it one small tiny change? Does this one change affect the way I do things before and after it?  Do those stay constant so that there is only one change? People can only manage one small change at time.  Otherwise, it is too overwhelming.  At least to start with.  Add others over time.

Teachers started to see the value of technology because with Excel they can, with a click of the average function, take a column of student scores and find the average.  They didn’t have to find a calculator, the few that may exist at the school, or even now with everyone has a calculator on their phone.  After typing the numbers into Excel, their grades are done.

It is not about using the technology.  It is about changing behavior.   There is a whole generation that grew up always have a smartphone.  They can adapt easily to using a new app but think about the 1000s of apps our there now.  How many are used? How many fail?  Even if it is an incredible resource.

Stop trying to convince people that this is good.
It will evolve if it is good, but it takes time.
Work on the early adaptors, get to those early users.  It will happen if it is a viable product.

Also, it may not happen in the timeframe that you think it should. Timing is key. I was working on an education portal for teachers in 2009 in Zambia.  In 2014 when I met with education officials, one of the first things that they said that they wanted to do was build an education portal.  We were too early.  In 2009 when project funding ended, I saw that it was shifting.

I put that into my final report: timing.  In Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World, Adam Grant has a chapter called “Timing, Strategic Procrastination and the First-Mover Disadvantage.”  Zambia is now trying to do something that we were telling them about 6 years prior.

Realize and accept that some people will never change. That is ok. It is the law of diffusion.  The laggards – the ones that may have to change because their old way of doing it no longer exists.

How do you get people to use the technology?  Only if they want to. The people who are facing the problem that you are ‘solving’ know better than any of us what works for them.  Not because it is good technology.

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