Businesses that innovate move forward, and those that don’t get left behind. Where others see uncertainty, innovators see opportunity.

Do others call you a trendsetter? Do you find yourself doing things “before they’re cool”?

If you swapped out your Walkman for a CD Player or ever received Netflix in the mail, you may be an early adopter. But what is that?

Early adopters are individuals who quickly sign on to the “next big thing.” They are the ones that line up outside stores to purchase an Oculus Quest, or they have the whole fleet of Amazon Alexa’s in their house.

But being an early adopter is not limited to people like you or me. Even a business can be one.

For instance, in the 1970s, FedEx was one of the first companies to offer overnight shipping. They invested heavily in logistics and developed new technologies to help track packages to make it possible. This investment differentiated them from their competitors and set the stage for overnight shipping to be commonplace today.

Universal Logic, with fifteen years’ experience leading innovation, has a unique position to see others like FedEx tip the scales in their respective markets. This niche has given us a front-row seat to better understand this phenomenon and its broader impact.

The term “early adopter” comes from a social theory called the Diffusion of Innovations, written by sociologist Everett Rogers in 1962. This theory explains how new ideas and technologies spread through society and divides people into five categories based on their quickness to adopt them.

The Technology Diffusion Curve is the core of Rogers’ Theory. Technology is adopted from left to right, and percentages represent the market share by category.

The Technology Diffusion Curve is the core of Rogers’ Theory. Technology is adopted from left to right, and percentages represent the market share by category.

But what makes early adopters so important?

Rogers classified them by several traits.

  • Early adopters have highly valued opinions. They are respected by others in their circle and are sought out for their views and perspectives on new technologies.
  • Early adopters are open to new ideas. They are willing to be curious. They will try new things knowing they may not be fully proven or wholly established.
  • Early adopters are willing to take risks. They are eager to take a chance, invest, and adopt new ideas and technologies, knowing the potential put before them.

Marketers have long recognized the importance of early adopters in driving the adoption of new technologies and ideas. Knowing that if something catches on with this group, it has a high chance of spreading to the broader population.

This theory is built as a consumer-based model, and as a result, much of the content surrounding it is geared toward finding and engaging with consumers. You may stumble on articles with titles like “Tactics for Finding Early Adopters” or “Growing Beyond the Early Adopter,” which offer targeted strategies for businesses looking to connect with their target audience and expand their customer base.

What does it mean for a business to be an early adopter?

A business must have a mindset similar to the early consumer. It must be willing to take risks to improve processing and see the potential to drive the business forward.

This mindset can give businesses a decisive advantage, differentiating them from the rest.

When companies buy into new technology, it can improve their efficiency and productivity and increase cost savings and total output. By enhancing their process, businesses improve the service they provide customers, whether it be shorter lead times or greater production flexibility. These small changes can go a long way toward improving customer loyalty and brand recognition.

Once you start, the gap will only grow. After you’ve installed that next robot or downloaded that new software, others will be left in the dust. You’re ahead of the curve, and they’re behind it. As time passes, they will try to catch up, implementing changes you made years ago.

Don’t just take our word for it. Look at the biggest companies in the world and see what differentiates them. Walmart, Amazon, and Microsoft: What do these companies have in common? They’re early adopters. They understand the value of moving forward, and that mindset has led them to dominate their respective industries. For example, in 2012, Amazon bought into large-scale automation; now, they deploy over 500,000 robots and are considered the industry leader in supply chain automation. They certainly weren’t the first to automate, but getting in early has made all the difference.

How can your business be an Early Adopter?

Walk through your process. Go over the steps. Then identify areas where you can improve. Consolidate all potential projects and note the effort required and the benefit received for each. Then classify every project into four categories.

  • Quick Wins: Projects with low effort and high reward.
  • Major Projects: Projects with high effort and high reward.
  • Hard Slogs: High-effort projects that have a low reward.
  • Fill Ins: Low-effort projects that are a low reward.

With all your ideas in front of you, it is time for the next step: make a plan.

Quick wins are the early focus. Starting small is the key. Implementing minor changes with significant impacts can do worlds for your long-term outlook. These early changes will get the ball rolling, but the hard work is yet to come. After wrapping up the quick wins, adjust your focus to major projects.

At this phase, being an early adopter makes all the difference. Your quick wins were likely similar to your competitors. But how can you gain an advantage if you both have taken the same steps? Early Adoption. This point is crucial. After fixing the easy stuff, companies will often fall content and push major projects down the road, but the next step is the most important.

Shift your focus to the most beneficial major project. Do the research and find the best solution. There are thousands of opportunities available. While each may not be a perfect fit, take the time to understand each one and its implications. Don’t shy away from projects others fear; if there is potential, see it through. Just because you’re early doesn’t mean it’s the wrong step.

Starting one project doesn’t make you an early adopter. Remember, it’s a mindset; you must embrace new changes and constantly look for what’s next. Do the research and stay informed because, at the end of the day, what you don’t know can’t help you.

The values and mindsets of early adopters make them beyond valuable to businesses. They represent a crucial piece of the global demand and can help companies to innovate and move forward. While there is no way to be certain that every new idea or technology will be the next big thing, the early adopters have the most to gain if they are.

We see businesses every day pass up opportunities that could drastically improve their operations. Don’t let perceived obstacles limit your growth. Universal Logic has the experience and insight to assist you in assessing those obstacles and find potential solutions.

The businesses that innovate move forward, and those that don’t get left behind.

Where others see uncertainty, see opportunity. Be ahead of the curve.