The Tipping Point for GreenTech?

November 30, 2009
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We here at GreenTech Advocates want to make green technology and energy efficiency something everyone is interested in. And if you’re reading this, you should too.

But in many cases the contagious spread of a new idea is tricky, writes Malcolm Gladwell in his bestselling book, The Tipping Point. Gladwell’s book examines how innovations and ideas reach a tipping point and become appealing to the mass market. And how some do not.

I read The Tipping Point specifically with green technology in mind—and how we can make it appealing to more people. Gladwell doesn’t specifically address green or technology, but he cites Geoffrey Moore, author of Crossing the Chasm. Moore uses the example of high technology to argue that there is a substantial difference in the people who originate trends (early adopters) and the majority who eventually take them up (the early majority).

Because of this, innovations don’t slide effortlessly between the early adopters and early majority. There is a chasm between them, and this chasm must be crossed or an innovation will fail to achieve mass-market success.

From this, I think we can safely say that green technology has not yet crossed that chasm, and there are a lot of reasons for this, from high prices to availability to ignorance about energy efficiency and sustainability issues to climate change doubters.

We can think of the innovators and early adopters who use green technologies as visionaries and risk-takers. And the companies who market green technology services are those who want to be set apart form their competition. Yet those in the early majority are largely pragmatists who want to see progress only on a safe and incremental basis—and with good ROI. They’re not going to spend millions on green technologies unless they see quick and assured payback.

Think of solar panels in this regard. The homeowners who have invested in expensive photovoltaic panels have done so because they are visionaries who believe in green technology and energy efficiency. Many of these early adopters won’t see a return on their investments for decades. Today, as more and more people become concerned about the environment and the high cost of their utility bills, the solar industry has gained some traction. Efficiencies of the panels have improved and their costs have come down. Yet most of us still can’t afford a system that produces most of our electricity, and the ROI still takes too long. This will continue to change, and with government incentives the solar industry will soon, if not eventually, cross that chasm.

The same may be said of energy monitoring systems for the home, which will be spurred by the development of a smart grid. That, in turn, could spur home control and automation systems that provide both convenience and energy efficiency. And like solar panels, they will have to cross the chasm.

You may not even care if these technologies become implemented by the mass market, especially if your business caters to high-end custom homes. Yet you should, because what green technology needs—at all levels—is mass-market awareness of the benefits of energy efficiency technologies.

So How Can We Get GreenTech to Tip?

What any successful contagion needs, Gladwell writes, are the people responsible for turning an innovation into a true mass appeal. These people he calls mavens, connectors, and salesmen.

  • Mavens are the informational resources, like GreenTech Advocates, who can’t wait to share the information they’ve collected with people like you.
  • Connectors are the people with vast networks of contacts who say, “Hey, check out this green technology blog or these new shoes or haircut,” to all their friends and associates, some of whom may be connectors or mavens themselves.
  • The salesmen are the people with the charisma and charm to close the deals.

It seems to me that there are plenty of mavens and salesmen in the world of green tech, but not too many true connectors—and that is what we need more of. We have to reach these connectors with the compelling message of the energy efficiency and convenience green technology can bring us. We need to get them talking about it and posting updates on their Facebook and Twitter accounts.

Starting Small is Just Fine

Another interesting point that Gladwell makes is that large audiences aren’t necessarily the key to starting a contagious idea. Instead, focus on smaller groups outside one area of interest. Great connectors don’t just have contacts in the world of consumer electronics or computers, for example. They have some contacts in other areas, like green building and technology, construction, finance, marketing and PR, etc. So think outside of the box, and market yourself outside of the box.

GreenTech Advocates, for instance, was founded on the idea of bringing the green and technology interests together. We’re collecting contacts in both fields, as well as in building and construction, banking and finance, recycling and reuse, commercial, you name it. So don’t toss that business card from the guy whose green business may be of marginal interest to you. Who knows? He or she may be the connector that can spread the word about green technology and your services.

And by the way, if you know of some great connectors, send them this link!

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