Design Principle #4 for 84% Innovation Adoption – Technology Readiness Level

This series of blog posts describes the principles relevant for designing an innovation for rapid adoption by 84% of a target group. 84% adoption is the threshold for achieving sustainable change.

The underlying theory stems from the "invisible college" around Rogers, E.M. (2003) “Diffusion of Innovations.” which reminds us that adopters are grouped as Innovators 2%, Early Adopters 14%, Early Majority 34%, Late Majority 34% and Laggards 16%. Designing innovations (and the change intended by them) to reach the Late Majority is a very different game than that typically "played" (which actually only focuses on the Innovators and Early Adopters). Such "designs" depend on understanding our own body of work which skilfully integrates systems thinking, living systems principles, complexity thinking etc. None of the design principles we will discuss are “innovative” – it their blending and orchestration to achieve 84% adoption that is the art of “deep diffusion” we master.

Design Principle #4: Technology Readiness Level

Technology Readiness Level (TRL) describes the maturity of a product in respect to being used in an operational environment. TRL can be applied to services as well. TRL does NOT refer to the use of a product/service to achieve a specific benefit (i.e., commercially or regarding a specific behavioural change. See also The higher a TRL the easier the “use” by late adopters is in general.

In practice it can help to agree on the TRL with focus groups from the relevant adopter category. Ideally each adopter category re-designs a product/service to meet the TRL expectations of the next adopter group and thus each adopter group receives a different version; innovation get the “beta version”, early adopters get version 1.0, the early majority gets 2.0, the late majority gets 3.0 and laggards, well get version 4.0+.

As an example, we might be diffusing a vertical farming solution for supermarkets. The solution consists both of a “product” in the sense of a growing cabinet and a “service” for using it (i.e., cleaning, replenishment etc.). When the solution is “sold” to supermarkets (chains) then it must be at TRL 9 (fully ready for use), due to many legal requirements. On the way to TRL 9 the solution may also have been continuously co-created with later buyers – it is during this co-creation process that the TRLs are run through. Hereby it is not uncommon for TRL 1 & 2 to be completed by research institutes, TRL3-6 to be co-created, TRL 7&8 is usually achieved with scaling partners. The first supermarkets (chains) to “buy” are then typically innovators and even they will start with small pilots in a few stores to see how things go! The “late adopters” are then often those stores where consumers would not like to take risks. Interesting enough there is a strong correlation to cultural preferences here as well – check out to especially review cultural attitudes to uncertainty / innovation.

So… are you aligning TRL progression planning against your adopter groups?

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Previous Design Principles

Design Principle #1 for 84% Innovation Adoption – Aiming for 84%

Design Principle #2 for 84% Innovation Adoption – Product/Service Control

Design Principle #3 for 84% Innovation Adoption – Degree of Innovativeness

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