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A neophiliac is one who is addicted to innovation for its own sake, who believes that the new is good.

A neophobic is one who instinctively fears and distrusts new technology.

Following fashion doesn’t only mean adopting the flavour-of-the-month solution to common problems, but also in focussing on the same issues as everyone else.

There is a widespread expectation, especially among academics, that technology studies should concentrate on the latest and sexiest technologies.  This is an example of neophilia - obsessive love of the new.
Neophilia reflects a refusal to learn from history.  (Those that do not study history are condemned to repeat it.)  If you only ever study the new stuff, you can never get a complete picture of the technology life-cycle.  Furthermore, you are more likely to be distracted by the sexy technological details, and fail to perceive the underlying social patterns.
Neophilia leads to an undue emphasis on the perceptions and behaviour of the early adopters.  It's a very common pitfall of technology development and transfer, that product developers spend most of their time talking to early adopters, and fail to anticipate the needs of late adopters (where there are potentially much greater commercial and social benefits).
Neophiliacs usually ignore the interests of the vast majority of practitioners, such as myself, who spend most of their time and energies working with mainstream users and late adopters.  It also ignores the interests of important stakeholders, such as investors and funding bodies, who are extremely concerned about the fact that there is a very poor conversion rate from experimental pilot projects (involving academics and early adopters) to widespread use. 
Neophiliacs and early adopters are promiscuous in their attachments, and can abandon technologies as quickly as they adopt them.  Mainstream users typically have much steadier and deeper relationships with technologies once they've adopted them.  (I'm not saying that either is better than the other, but they're certainly different.)

It's more important to keep the business going, and then change it, not the other way around (Lee Iaccocca)
But unremitting change (although adopted by some managers to keep the organization on its toes, and perhaps to achieve a Hawthorne effect, whereby any change somehow improves productivity) may not be the wisest strategy overall. It is a good plan to devote some time and resources to new ideas and to new issues. 

Innovative devices should be watched and tested, and used when appropriate. 

Neophobes never try anything.
The greatest mistake is to forget what you already know, in the eagerness to learn something new. This mistake can be made by individuals and by organizations. Each innovation should be given enough time to become properly understood, and for it to be smoothly fitted with the context in which it must work.  Neophobes never start anything.
Neophilacs often never finish anything because they keep having better ideas. - but on the other hand you have to invest something in new ideas. Neophobes never start anything.

Neophilia and neophobia may seem like opposite ends of the spectrum, but in fact they're alarmingly close. An obsessional neophilia often conceals a deeper neophobia, and vice versa. Neophilac and neophobic conspire to avoid a proper and balanced engagement with technology.

Most of us are bombarded with invitations to attend conferences, workshops and seminars on a wide variety of new technologies.  New buzz-words to add to your CV (if you're a practitioner) or undergraduate syllabus (if you're
an academic).

Many researchers, both in academia and industry, focus on technologies at an early stage of the technology life-cycle.  They regard themselves as early adopters, and they talk mostly to other early adopters.  They focus their attention on the technical novelty and potential of each innovation, and evaluate technology largely by technological criteria.

However, there is another perspective on technology, which considers the whole technology lifecycle in relation to the users of the technology.  This perspective is important both to practitioners, who work mostly with mainstream users and late adopters, and to students of the technology transfer process itself.   It is also of crucial interest to institutions and funding bodies, as well as technology planners and investors.

Key questions from this perspective include:
How do technologies develop and mature over time?
How do technologies make the transition from experimental pilots to widespread use?  How long does it take, and what factors affect the timescales?
How do technologies designed for early adopters meet the needs of mainstream users?
What is the nature of the relationship between early adopters and mainstream users?  Are there implicit expectations or obligations on either side?
What are the risks of technology transfer, and how can they be assessed and managed? 

We cannot answer these questions by studying new technologies alone.  We also need to explore some older technologies, technologies whose initial glamour has worn off, technologies that have gone past the early adopter stage and have reached some degree of widespread use and maturity.

veryard projects - innovation for demanding change

Can Neophiliacs Manage Technology Change?

veryard projects > technology change management > neophilia > technology change

I heard a speech a while back, by the head of research at a large, well-known and supposedly innovative company, in which he enthused about a series of glamorous gadgets.  I was personally disappointed in the speech, because it was billed as a contribution to technology transfer, and I wanted to hear how he managed the innovation process.

His company is notoriously packed with early adopters.  Any damn-fool technology salesman with a half-decent product can sell them something for a pilot project.  The company has pilot projects coming out of its ears.  But in order for the company and the technology supplier to make any money from the technology, they have to go beyond the pilot to widespread use, and this is something that this company (like many others) seems to find extraordinarily difficult.  It's easier, and more gratifying for the technological neophiliacs, just to start another half-dozen pilots.

And this particular technology boss seems to revel in the glamour of new technology.  From a technology transfer perspective, he seems to be part of the problem, not part of the solution.


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This page last updated on November 13th, 2001
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