Let’s Stop Talking About Adoption

tire trackAs more and more organizations start using social media tools, I’d like to propose a modest change in the way we talk about the “adoption” process. Let’s start calling it something else.

Over the past year and a half, I’ve helped over a hundred organizations implement social networking tools, and have fallen easily into the industry-standard practice of calling the process “adoption”. Yet I’ve never been comfortable with using adoption in this context, for reasons that only recently have begun to crystallize.

First, adoption – real adoption, the adoption of a human child – is a heart-achingly beautiful process that can generate indescribable life and love. Software can be pretty amazing at times, but it rarely makes you weep with joy. And adoption in this context can be an emotionally laden term, not the best way to encourage someone to use a new software program.

Adoption involves taking on a lot of responsibility. Many of the people expected to become “users” of the new system are already using tons of applications – in fact, they’re learning new ones all the time. No wonder it can be difficult to get people to use a new tool, even one that would genuinely save them time and work.

So, if adoption isn’t the right word for this process, what is?

I’m proposing that we use “traction” instead, because it’s a better metaphor for the way enterprise software really is used in an organization:

1. Adoption is an event; traction is an on-going process that applies both to organizations and to the people who work in them, allowing for differences in their backgrounds, motivations, and capabilities.

2. Adoption is relatively rare; becoming proficient with a new software tool is something most office workers do on an almost daily basis.

3. Adoption is abstract; traction is a familiar physical sensation, like the grip of a tire on a road.

But for me, traction comes with an even better connotation – the idea of directed forward motion. Smart organizations, and the smart people who comprise them, are always striving to move forward. It takes time and trouble to become proficient with a new tool, but people do it for a reason – they’re convinced it will improve their existence.

They’re right.