Innovators – R&D centers of any social context

December 11, 2011

Innovators are the R&D center of each social context.

Innovativeness should never be regarded as a stand-alone concept, because it is essentially linked with other forces of the SAM (Social Adoption Mechanism). If innovators are the R&D center, then opinion leaders are the marketing department of the social context, adapting the R&D’s innovations to fit the social context’s needs. And both ‘departments’ are necessary for a social context to adapt innovations efficiently.

If your aim is to analyse the innovator’s behavior, or to co-create with them, try to consider the other cogs of his social context as well.  Focussing too much on an isolated group of innovators might result in a lot of great ideas that miss relevance to the social context. The interactions between innovators, opinion leaders and other members of the social context, is what really should be the object of observation or collaboration.


Thank you Derek Sivers … best explanation of SAM (Social Adoption Mechanism) ever

August 5, 2011

For those who have not: look at this cute presentation by Derek Sivers on ‘the start of a movement’:

It shows how both typologies (innovator and gatekeeper) are crucial in introducing a new ‘idea’ to a group. The crazy dude (typical innovator) is just doing his thing, ignoring the group’s expectations. He is driven by nothing but his own amusement.

The second guy (typical gatekeeper), seeing the social potential, copies the crazy guy’s dance, and engages his friends to join.

The little movie perfectly explains the Social Adoption Mechanism (SAM), the diverse motivations and functions of each cog in the mechanism. So thank you Derek Sivers for looking attentively at this movie and explaining it with so much enthusiasm. Damn right I will use this in my future presentations about the topic.

Where good ideas come from …

July 7, 2011

Steven Johnson talks in his TED presentation about the environments that are most stimulating for generating innovations.

He argues that great innovative ideas are not being formed during some individual Eureka moment. Rather, these ideas are formed in social places, ‘where ideas can have sex’ . Chaotic environments like ancient coffeehouses where ideas from various backgrounds were likely to come together and have unpredictable collisions. Next he makes conclusions how to facilitate the innovation process in a company, elaborating on these insights.

The idea I share with Johnson is very strong: innovation is a social event, not an individual event.

However, I tend to disagree on the idea that social gatherings are the sole stimulating environments for innovation. As the SAM (social adoption mechanism) explains, you need isolated innovators, developing their ideas away from any social guiding, in the first place. I do agree that these ideas indeed need the collision with gatekeepers and larger social contexts to refine and adapt these raw ideas … and that process could have well happened at a coffehouse.

It is this mechanism, the interaction between innovators and gatekeepers, that leads to powerful innovations.

Spear B: the birth of the first brand

May 30, 2011

Most probably, the first brand must have appeared long before human beings were able to speak. It could well have happened on a moment as the one I’ll describe here …

For long, this tribe in Northern America has been hunting and staying close to a herd of buffalos. But due to a cold period, the herd has migrated towards the south, leaving our tribe with a food problem. Their hunting techniques and equipment have been finetuned during the last decades to attack buffalos. Spear A has been proven very useful in penetrating the buffalo’s skin. Erik, the blacksmith (avant la lettre) who invented this spear A, has spent his entire live developing and refining his innovation. His son, Björn, learned a lot from his father but developed his own technique in crafting spears. Despite his father’s instructions, he focussed on a sharper spear, less secure when thrown at the animal, but able to penetrate a thicker type of skin. Björn has practiced this new spear on different kinds of wood, improved it, and tested it over and over. Björn even argued that it would allow them to hunt down the biggest animal of them all … the mammoth. Unfortunately, noone would care to listen to his fantasies, not for the least his own father.

Johan, who is very aware of the problems his tribe is facing, is willing to take a risk. As a trusted opinion leader, he believes in Björn’s spear. He asks some of his blacksmith friends to have a look at it, to change the grip of the spear and to lighten the weight so it can be thrown from further away. When he considers spear B to be ready to give it a try, the tribe assembles some of its best hunters and equips them with Spear B. The hunting of mammoth had begun …

I may hope this story illustrates how the first brand could have been born, making use of only word-of-mouth (actually, the first form of WOM must have been sound-of-mouth or gesture-by-hand :-)) and the SAM (social adoption mechanism). Spear B was the perfect answer to a changing environment and consequently an emerging need within the social system … Björn had the answer, Johan linked the innovation with the emerging need. The SAM did its job … it’s some plain and simple marketing.

Applying the SAM to your ideation funnel

December 9, 2010

So you think co-creating is a good idea, but let me ask you a question:

Do you want your opinion leaders to define your product functionalities? Do you want your product geeks to define your product design?

I guess not. Sure, co-creating is a wonderful thing, but be careful who you co-create with in each step of the process.

Identify innovators, people who use your product for a specific purpose, and upgrade your product with them. Identify opinion leaders, generalists, and work with them so this new upgrade will get socially desirable.

The efficiency of your ideation funnel will be so much higher if you incorporate these simple lessons.

Good luck … or don’t leave the future of your product to luck and have a healthy chat with wenovate!

Self-monitoring: the difference between innovators and gatekeepers

July 14, 2010

Our sociometer gives us signals. It warns us if our behavior is not appreciated by significant others … Relationships that are for some reason valuable to us, undergo a certain degree of pressure and devaluation. On the other hand, the sociometer gives us social joy when we feel more appreciated than normal.

The sociometer indicates a state self-esteem below or above our regular level. Pain as well as joy urge us to react. We want that pain to go away, or find a recepy for that joy to stay. The manner in which we react to that pain or joy largely depends on the situation and the personality of the subject.

One personality variable that explains a lot of the variability in the way we react to social pain is self-monitoring. Self-monitoring is a term proposed by Marc Snyder in 1972. It differentiates people based on the degree in which they adjust their behavior on the social context they’re in. People low in self-monitoring are relative consistent in the way the behave, the opinions they ventilate, etc. Those high in self-monitoring change their behavior depending on the social context of the moment. Their behavior is less consistent.

Innovators are generally people who score low on self-monitoring. They are passionate about their domains, and don’t let their opinions be influenced by the social context of the moment. They follow their own beliefs within the domain and prefer to share their ideas with people with the same passion. They get their positive social feedback from being consistent, trustworthy an potentially valuable because of their knowledge and expertise in their domain.

Gatekeepers on the other hand must be attentive for what’s relevant at this very moment in this very social context. They score high on self-monitoring. This makes their behavior much more inconsistent in time and in social context. They get their positive social feedback from linking novelties with a relevant need in the social context.

Gatekeepers: the radars of the SAM

July 5, 2010

In a previous post, I described the innovator and his usefulness in the SAM (social adoption mechanism). I like to see the innovator as a sort of R&D center cut loose from the daily relevance of a social system. They are said to have an ‘unhealthy’ interest in one or a couple of domains while having a lack of interest in more common domains. The innovator builds knowledge and sharpens his skills that might come in very handy for his tribe one day. When that day comes, his knowledge will become highly relevant and, following the SAM philosophy, will be picked up by the gatekeepers of his tribe.

While the innovator can be seen as the R&D center of the social system, the gatekeeper serves as the radar that links an innovation to a social opportunity. Unlike the innovator, he is very sensitive for the social cues he gets from his social system. The gatekeeper is very early in scanning the environment, detecting social opportunities and matching them with an innovation.

While the sociometer of the innovator is triggered by passion for a domain, the gatekeeper’s sociometer is sensitive for social opportunities. In the end, both types will receive their social acceptance, but the difference in how they obtain this acceptance, defines the working of the SAM.

This is why innovation makes much more sense when looking at it from a social point of view.