Simplicity is what makes cool ideas take off. If a technological innovation takes a difficult task and makes it easier, then the momentum just builds faster. While it is hard to argue that the live event industry has ever done anything suddenly, there are times when, all of a sudden, it just makes sense to adopt new technology. The moment that a technology product moves us from “Hmm, interesting” to “I must have it” is its tipping point.

In his book The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference (Little, Brown and Company, 2000), Malcolm Gladwell explores the drivers of change — in particular, sudden change. The book has some great anecdotes, but the lesson for live event purveyors is to understand how we process new technology opportunities.

Deciding when to join a technology trend is one of the most gut-wrenching decisions in business. In the live events world, the pressure comes at you from all sides. Designers, programmers, and technical staff love to be at the forefront of new technology. Customers often need new products or applications to set their projects apart from the competition. Sales teams want something new to sell. Then there are the manufacturers themselves that spend a great deal of energy enticing customers to buy-in now. What makes it all the more difficult is that once a choice exists, the risk is inherent no matter what you do. “If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice!” points out Rush bandmember and author Neil Peart. Move too early into a new product, and you could end up with an expensive boat anchor (or door stop — choose your euphemism). Wait too long, and the opportunity for gaining market share and additional profit will be gone.

In any Marketing 101 course, students learn about the technology adoption curve — that is, the bell-shaped curve that describes the rate of acceptance for a given technology product. It starts with the innovators and moves through the early adopters. These represent the technology pioneers. Next comes the early majority, followed by the late majority: the consumers. The laggards are the last to adopt an innovation. They wait until it has been completely commoditized and standardized. For some live event products, the life cycle is relatively long. Take moving lights as an example. The application of automated fixture control has been around since the 1960s. The first fixtures with variable zoom, focus, and color-changers on a moving yoke showed up on concert tours around 1980. The early driver was the automation itself, then came the effects — the wow factor — and then ease of use. The tipping point for moving-light adoption by the early majority was tied to the development of lighting consoles.

So how does this help the manager of a live event business decide what to do with new technology? Start by understanding your tolerance for risk contrasted against your customers' needs for innovation. To assist you with that are two lists: the dealmakers and the deal-breakers. Innovators and the early adopters are primarily interested in the dealmaker list. The early and late-majority adopters use both lists. Laggards only consider deal-breakers in their decision criteria. By considering which list items drive your decisions, you can better understand where you fall on the adoption curve.

Dealmakers include whether or not:

  1. The product can deliver an experience that is attractive and new.
  2. The product solves one or more technological challenges.
  3. The product applies new technology that improves the performance over similar products.
  4. The product does something unique.
  5. The product has the potential to do even more as it is developed.
  6. The indirect replacement or substitution is expensive, cumbersome, unreliable, or inadequate.

The list of deal-breakers includes:

  1. The darn thing doesn't work as promised.
  2. Another product comes out quickly that works better.
  3. There is limited demand for the innovation.
  4. The compromises or limitations make the innovation less attractive.
  5. The costs exceed the potential revenue.
  6. Another product does a little less for a lot less money.

To embrace new technology, innovators do not need any special circumstances other than that the technology does something cool. Any one of the dealmaker items being true is enough for an innovator, even if every deal-breaker is also true. For early adopters, one or two additional dealmakers must be true, whereas the early majority requires the comfort that at least one deal-breaker is false. The late-majority needs more of the deal-breakers to be false than it needs the dealmakers to be true. Finally, the laggards only care about the deal-breakers being mostly false.

Some folks make these assessments intuitively. The rest of us need something more concrete to support our decisions. Interpreting where you come in on the adoption curve is easier than making assessments on specific technology, but it is a good start. Once you understand where you fit, it is much easier to run the innovation opportunity through a filter like this dealmaker/breaker analysis. Try this with some of your previous decisions — the good ones and the bad — and see if you might have chosen differently.

Thomas Stimson, MBA, CTS is president of Dallas-based consulting firm The Stimson Group. He is the current chairman of InfoComm's Rental & Staging Council and a member of the ETCP Certification Council. Stimson consults to the live event industry on strategic planning, market research, and process management. Contact him at tom@trstimson.com.