Why the chasm still exists

is there a chasm?
Is there a chasm?

In his blog post of January 13, my colleague Charles Plant questioned the existence of a “chasm” in the development of technology markets as originally described Geoffrey Moore in Crossing the Chasm. Charles offered three arguments in support of his position:

  1. That business strategy is now driving technology
  2. That the “roles” of the early adopter and visionaries have changed because they have similar objectives.
  3. That social media is accelerating the speed with which information is distributed and thus eliminating the “pause” in market development which is The Chasm.

My position is that The Chasm is alive and well but, unfortunately, still not well understood by the technology community. Let me explain by addressing the above concerns as they relate to market development.

  1. Business strategy as a driver of technology: While the demand-side for technology may or may not be more disciplined in its behaviour, the supply-side — the technology vendors and entrepreneurs — still work their magic to develop great ideas, get financing and bring new technology solutions to the market place. Some of these technologies will eventually address business processes that the demand-side would not have the imagination to put in their business strategies.
  2. The roles of early adopters and visionaries have changed: The argument suggests that early adopters have roles — a kind of top-down approach where people in a particular organizational role are told to respond in a particular way towards technology. While I agree that you are more likely to find technology enthusiasts in a company’s IT department and that they have responsibilities corresponding with that job, I contend that early adopters and visionaries are to be found throughout organizations and not only in technology-facing jobs. To be an early adopter is not an organizational role, but rather describes an innate behavioral trait which is mainly based on psychological constructs such as people’s ability to trust and their responses to risk — traits that don’t change as quickly. Just as people are individually wired in those areas, they also have other talents and interests that may take them anywhere in an organization (for example: Gartner Inc’s CEO Gene Hall builds his own computers in his spare time). Similarly, you will find pragmatists in technology facing roles. All of this means that you can’t assume that the objectives of a corporation will dictate how people behave towards technology.
  3. Social media is accelerating the distribution of market information and narrowing the chasm: The advent of the internet and the concept of “information at your fingertips” is only part of the story concerning media development. A longer lasting and more complex trend is the ongoing media and audience fragmentation. Simply put, with the internet we have much more information available, but it is spread out across an increasing breadth of media vehicles and brands that cater to narrow sub-cultures and market segments. A consequence of this fragmentation is that an early adopter will have a specific set of channels and media they consume, while a pragmatist will consume a completely different set of media channels.

In sum, the emergence of social media is not of significance in terms of a technology crossing the chasm. However, the global nature of the internet means that more early adopters across the globe are exposed to the same information, thus helping start-ups with interesting technology reach a larger number of early adopters and better their opportunity of crossing the chasm. But, if the start-up then fails to develop a new message and target new segments through a different set of media they still won’t make it to the Main Street.

Geoffrey Moore created the Chasm theory based on his observation of organizational and human behaviour in the same way that Gartner Inc. developed the Technology Hype Cycle, and both are concepts that are valid today. The main reason for this is that people and organizations change slowly. In general, we are a lot more comfortable with many types of technology than we probably were in 1991, but when it comes to disruptive technologies — which is what the chasm is relevant for — not much has changed.