Five Questions To Separate “The Next Big Thing” From the Lemon

Five questions to consider when trying to figure out which IT innovations to pay attention to versus which to wait out because they might prove to be lemons.

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Managers are faced with so many new types of hardware and software that it’s hard to separate the good ones from the losers.

Image courtesy of Flickr user Darwin Bell.

Are you an early adaptor of new technology? Or do you take a wait-and-see attitude?

Business managers see or hear about new hardware and software nearly every day. The challenge is figuring out which IT innovations to invest time in and which to wait out because they might end up being lemons.

In the new Winter 2012 issue of MIT Sloan Management Review, E. Burton Swanson, director of the Information Systems Research Program at the UCLA Anderson School of Management, offers some help with “The Manager’s Guide to IT Innovation Waves.”

Swanson’s guide includes five questions to consider when weighing whether to pursue a technology or pass for now. The questions and his comments are excerpted here:

  • Does the technology have more than one name? It’s not a good sign if the industry can’t agree on a name for a new technology. Agreed-on terms are part of what makes a technology workable.
  • Is there competition? It’s generally a good sign if there is more than one provider. Even if one vendor dominates the market, the presence of more than one credible contender is often a sign that the category is gaining momentum.
  • What does it do? Obviously, don’t buy anything before you’re clear about its purpose. If you keep reading and listening and still don’t quite understand what the technology is supposed to do, chances are good others won’t either.
  • What kind of stories are you reading and hearing about it? Beware of a new technology that doesn’t have clear, verifiable success stories attached. Horror stories are also important as a sign of the difficulty if not the ultimate failure of the technology.
  • Has anyone made a commitment? Network effects are important in IT. If you don’t hear about others adopting it, or if the news on a vendor’s website about the product seems old, you may already have a loser.

For more on how to evaluate what’s new in IT, see Swanson’s full story, “The Manager’s Guide to IT Innovation Waves.” You can also watch a


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Comment (1)
Charles Guadet
In addition to the questions above, I would also ask:

1 - Is the demand proven?  In other words, are people buying a similar model or alternative?

2 - Is the demand demonstrated? In this case, you would want to look for people actively searching for a solution to their problem either on the internet or through offline research that your product or service would solve.

3 - Is the demand desired?  For this, we want to know are people actively searching for the specific product and benefit?

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