Once more, across that chasm

Geoffrey Moore’s analogy of “crossing the chasm” is that any new technology is quickly adopted by innovators and early adopters, but there is a chasm to cross in order to get the more pragmatic majority to adopt the new technology. For marketing, this is the real challenge – can the new product get widespread acceptance? In many cases the development costs can only be recovered if the majority purchase the goods or services.

I have referred to this model before and even tied it to Gladwell’s “tipping point” theory. My consulting work is mostly bridging the chasm:

  1. I am an early adopter myself, and use this experience to work with the early pragmatic majority. I also use a broader definition of technology; being the application of organized and scientific knowledge to solve practical problems. I spend much of my time watching the innovators, and
  2. I then determine which of their ideas and new technologies would make sense for my clients. To do this, I have to keep trying out new tools and processes in my own work.
  3. It’s a balancing act, being on the leading edge but not the bleeding edge.

In 2005 I wrote that these technologies were ready to cross the chasm:

  • Blogs (with some difficulties) & RSS
  • Workflow Learning (including wider acceptance of performance support instead of training)
  • Open Source

… and that these probably wouldn’t get across, yet:

A year later the use of blogs had exploded, while workflow learning had stalled and I noted that an understanding of the value of informal learning was catching on. Wikis were becoming more popular, especially those that replicated word processesors, like Writely, which was later purchased to become Google Docs, used ubiquitously today. There appeared to be a growing interest in natural enterprises and something to replace corporatism as a guiding model, and this continues, though too slowly for me.

In 2010 we’ve seen Twitter and micro-sharing cross the chasm, while virtual worlds, like Second Life seem to be floundering. Informal learning is being discussed throughout the profession, but in many cases it’s just lipstick on a pig. Mobile tools are poised for a major breakthrough, though more as performance support and knowledge management than courses online. In the next few years, the use of collaborative work technologies, such as Google Docs or Sharepoint, will grow, while stand-alone learning applications will see a decline.

I think the next big shift in training/elearning will be the integration of learning into work. As staff costs continue to increase and the economy sputters for several more years, companies will look for reductions that also improve effectiveness. Once companies pass on the word that their staff are learning without a training department the shift will happen quickly. Learning professionals won’t even be involved in these conversations. Come back in five years and see if I’m right.

6 Responses to “Once more, across that chasm”

  1. David Grebow


    First I agree.

    Second, if you were a fly on the corporate conference room wall, what would a typical conversation tell us?

    I’m too old to start a new career, and not yet old enough to become a fossilized dinosaur stuck forever in the tar pit of change.

    How do we keep our professional selves in the conversation?

    • Harold Jarche

      That’s the $64K question, David. I think it’s by understanding the business we are supposed to support and being seen as a revenue centre not a cost centre.

  2. virginia Yonkers

    “Once companies pass on the word that their staff are learning without a training department the shift will happen quickly.” I agree with this prediction. However, as the “testing” in education at the lower levels works its way up through higher ed, it will continue into the workplace.

    I think the “training” department will be revamped as the skills assessment department. More and more pressure will be put on employees to maintain their skills, but to be able to demonstrate that they have those skills through corporate assessment (or testing).

    • Harold Jarche

      I think that too is possible, Virginia, though I would hope not. We’ve seen how much standardized assessments have helped public education systems 🙁 A better approach would be to democratize the workplace so that workers have influence and control over who they work with, as Semco SA has done:

      “At Semco workers choose their managers by vote and evaluate them regularly, with the results posted publicly. Of course, Ricardo Semler as an owner has a right for veto. “By having so much stock, I have a loaded gun, but in 25 years I’ve never used it because you can only use it once,” he says. “If I veto someone, the next time they’re going to say, ‘Forget it; he’s going to do what he wants.’ They have to go through processes where they know they’re going to prevail.” For example, the director at Lumiars School is a lively young woman named Lilian Kelian, with no background in education. Semler voted against her. “The parents wanted Lilian, so Lilian’s the new director,” he says. “The person we were backing had 20 years’ experience as a school director. But the parents were more interested in the mind-set, the drive, and the belief system. And Lilian has a lot of qualities. She knows we lobbied against her, but now we work together and off we go.”


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