Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Is there such a thing as 'Innate Innovativeness'?

Is there such a thing as ‘Innate Innovativeness’?

Innovativeness research is a huge area. A search for ‘innovativeness’ in Google Scholar brings up 64,500 papers. One of the biggest debates in the literature is the question “is there such a thing as ‘innate innovativeness’?”. Innate innovativeness is the idea that some people love change for the sake of change. You might imagine it as the idea that way back in our evolution, there were some cavemen who preferred to play safe and sit in their caves and pick fungi off the walls and there were some brave (or stupid) cavemen who ventured outside to hunt woolly mammoths and dodge sabre toothed tigers. Stories like this romanticise innovation and gloss over the perils of change for the sake of changing - so called ‘pro-innovation bias’ (also known as ‘shiny object syndrome’).

Looking for fellow sufferers of shiny object syndrome
I’ll freely admit that I suffer from ‘shiny object syndrome’. I see many problems with our society right now and I am committed to fixing a few of them (social isolation and traffic congestion). It’s pretty apparent though that I’m not going to get very far if I go it alone. I need to enrol other people in my vision of a world where people share rides instead ofdriving alone. More than that, I need to get them to change their behaviour and to embrace innovation.

Preaching the unconverted
Some people get ridesharing right away. It’s pretty easy to convince the hippies who used to hitchhike:P But given that ridesharing has a ‘critical mass requirement’ (you can’t find a ride unless a lot of people are using the system), I need a way to capture the attention and change the behaviour of the unwashed masses. That will require some smart marketing. It will mean I need to be pretty clear about how to segment the population and tailor our message to entice them in to sharing a car ride with a stranger.

Finding the path of least resistance
I fundamentally believe that it’s always best to find the path of least resistance in everything I do. So when designing this marketing campaign, I want to appeal to the people who are more likely to change. That’s why I became interested in the fabled ideal of the ‘innate innovator’, someone who loves change for the sake of changing. Someone who most assuredly suffers from ‘shiny object syndrome’.

Do innate innovators exist?
As mentioned, there has been an ongoing debate in the academic community about whether ‘innate innovativeness’ exists and whether it’s a useful concept. Since Midgley and Dowling first introduced the concept in 1978, there have been 656 research articles that refine the concept and suggest ways of measuring it. Interestingly, recent research has attacked the precept that innovativeness can be linked back to personality. For example, Roerich et al (2004) argue that all of the innate innovativeness measures were pretty hopeless at predicting whether people would buy a particular new product. It makes sense in a way: unless you’re a playboy Russian billionaire, you can’t buy every new thing that comes on the market.

No? How about domain specific innovativeness
 Rather than innate innovativeness, Roerich argues that it makes more sense to look at ‘domain specific innovativeness’. For example, let’s take a fictional character: Barry (or Bazza as he likes to be known). Bazza is a petrol head: he’s a motorbike mechanic, he goes to formula one events and he loves watching Top Gear. I don’t know about you, but I figure Bazza would be fairly innovative when it comes to motorbikes. He probably spends an afternoon each weekend fixing up his bike and spends a fair bit of cash on new parts. He’d be the one you’d go to if you wanted some advice on what bike to buy.

Hoffman and Soyez (2010) back up this little hunch I have with some empirical evidence. They surveyed 521 German car drivers and found that the drivers who had the latest car gadgetry were the ones who consumed a lot of car-related media (e.g. they watched Top Gear), were highly involved in the car industry (e.g. they went to F1 events), had a specific need for cognition (e.g. they liked having debates about whether BMWs are better than Mercedes when driving 170km/h down the Autobahn) and were opinion leaders (e.g. they’re the ones you’d go to when you wanted some advice on what car to buy).

Ok great. So that narrows down the search a bit for these innovators to help me change the world. If I decided to use the domain of ‘sustainability and transport’, I might decide to look for people who:

  1. Consume ridesharing-related media (maybe they read sustainability magazines and blogs)
  2. Are highly involved in sustainability and transport planning (maybe they protest at the Walk Against Warming)   
  3. Have a need for ridesharing-related cognition (maybe they’ve studied environmental science or go to public lectures on sustainability)
  4. Are opinion leaders (maybe they have a blog on sustainability themselves or are active on twitter).

How helpful is domain specific innovativeness?
Domain specific innovativeness is a nice idea. But Roehrich etal (2003) argue that it’s not really that useful. While Domain Specific Innovativeness scales might help predict whether someone is likely to buy stuff in a general category, it doesn’t tell us whether a particular product is going to be a hit or not. For example, Bazza might like buying new engine parts but never spend any money on seat covers or paint jobs because he only cares about how fast his car goes, not what it looks like. It’s clear that we need to get a bit more nuanced, once we’ve narrowed down the domain.

Motivated Consumer Innovativeness
This is where a new scale, motivated consumer innovativeness (MCI) comes in. MCI resurrects the ‘innate innovativeness’ concept with a few changes. Vandecasteele and Geuens (2003) chuck motivation theory into the mix. They argue that people have underlying motives for being innovative. The four reasons they give are:
  1. Functional innovativeness: when people buy products/services to improve their performance. e.g. Bazza wants his car to go fast so he buys new engine parts.
  2. Cognitive innovativeness: when people buy products/services for intellectual stimulation. e.g. I spent $80 on a membership because I like the idea of training my brain.
  3. Social innovativeness: when people buy stuff to one-up their neighbours and show off to strangers. E.g. Bazza’s friend Jared spent $1000 on a metallic paint job for his Subaru WRX
  4. Hedonic innovativeness: when people buy new stuff to make them feel good. E.g. a wine lover who goes to a different vineyard once per month and buys a different bottle of wine each time because he loves the experience of wine tasting

Vandecasteele et al (2010) have got some pretty convincing empirical evidence to show that their MCI model works. It’s a really nice study: they surveyed over 2000 people, worked out their primary motivation style and then compared that to the kind of products they’d be interested in buying. There was a tight fit between the motivation styles and the marketing angle of the product. For example, people who were hedonically motivated (they like new experiences that make them feel good) were attracted to products that were marketed that way.

Using the Motivated Consumer Innovativeness model
To simplify some pretty dense research, I’m going to use Vandecasteele’s work to come up with four innovator archetypes: the Over Achiever, the Showoff, the Shopaholic and the Geek.

The Overachiever (functional motivation)

 Overachievers are constantly on the lookout for innovations that will make them more productive. They are obsessed with efficiency and effectiveness. They want to save time and save money. They don’t really care about what it looks like, they only care whether it works.

The Showoff (social motivation)
Showoffs buy stuff because they want to impress other people. They love the rat race. They’re into competition and beating the Joneses. They like flashy cars and new clothes.

The Shopaholic (hedonic motivation)
”Ooh it’s on sale!” Shopaholics love the feeling of buying stuff. They’re sensationalists. They like to be pampered. They like going nightclubbing and bunjee jumping.

The Geek (cognitive innovation)
 Geeks love new ideas. They’ll embrace new products or services that challenge their thinking and spark their creativity. They spend their cash on books and educational courses.

Overlaying demographic data with MCI to make it useful
The archetypes sound kinda fun but how do you actually use them? I can see two ways of using them: a product-centric approach, and a customer-centric approach.
Product-centric approach
With a product-centric approach, you look at your product or service and decide what kind of motivational-style it best appeals to. For example, at its core, ridesharing is a functional innovation. It allows people to save money on their journey into work. Then, you choose a target demographic that are most aligned with that motivation. For instance, Vandecasteele and Geuens show that university students are highly motivated by functional innovation (they want to save money!). Therefore, it would make sense to market the product to university students and stress the money saving aspects of the service.

Customer centric approach
The other approach you could take is to decide on what target market is most likely to buy your product/service and then tailor your marketing message according to their motivations. As it turns out, university students would be a great market for ridesharing because the fact that they all travel to one common destination means ridesharing makes sense logistically as well. When Vandecasteele and Geuens surveyed uni students, they found that they were motivated by functional innovation but also by hedonic innovation (hedonic innovation is actually even stronger than functional innovation). Therefore, it would make sense to tailor the marketing message to stress not only the cost savings from ridesharing but also the fun experience of chatting to another student on your way to university.

Where to from here?
This research has swayed my thinking in some ways. It makes me question whether gamification is appropriate for all target demographics. My sense right now is that gamification primarily appeals to hedonic motivation and given that not all target groups are interested by hedonistic pursuits, it might not be appropriate. It’s also making me realise how important the functional side is. There’s no point building a gamification layer on top of a ridesharing system that doesn’t work.

The next thing I will be exploring is theories around innovation diffusion at a system level (I like the Unified Theory of Acceptance and Use of Technology mark 2).

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