What’s your tech disruption personality?

When it comes to facing the manifold challenges presented by technology, the accounting profession’s best tool may be a little applied psychology, according to Geoffrey Moore.

In a keynote at Avalara’s annual Crush user conference, held earlier this month, the futurist and author of “Crossing the Chasm” identified the personality types that people exhibit when confronted with the kinds of technology initiatives that firms will need to be considering in the near future.

“When you introduce a disruptive technology into your community, people will segregate into five different responses,” he explained, and knowing how to work with each type of responder (see all five, below) — how to leverage some and outflank others — can make or break a tech initiative.

Response 1: The ‘Sheldon’
Named after the character from “The Big Bang Theory,” the Sheldon is a complete technology enthusiast. “This person is an opinion maker for everyone else,” Moore explained. “They want to know what he thinks.”

So it’s important to have their buy-in and support — but they will often be far ahead of where your organization needs to be, and they’re not the most important responders to manage.
Response 2: The Visionary Executive
While this firm or practice area leader may not understand the technology, they want to leverage it to build their firm or service area. “They make the big bets,” Moore said — but while they’re helpful to have on board, they are also not the most important person or group to consider.
Response 3: The Pragmatists
Moore describes the pragmatists as a group, because they like to talk to each other. As you’d expect, they’re interested in the practical, in solutions that work today, offering an immediate benefit or solving a current problem.

In fact, it’s the “pragmatists in pain” — the ones with a problem right now — who are most important when it comes to introducing disruptive new technologies. “They have to do something fast because they’re in pain,” Moore explained. “They don’t want discount heart surgery — they’ll pay.”

“The internal change management issue is about finding the pragmatists in pain in your organization and identifying challenging use cases that you can solve for them,” he continued. “And then others will say, ‘We want what they have.’”
Response 4: The Conservatives
The conservative puts off change until they can’t avoid it. “They just want a solution, with no hype,” said Moore. “They never feel they get much, because they’re not good at this.” A good user experience and training can help them adjust after a solution or innovation has been implemented, but your firm will be better off engaging with the Pragmatists first, and then using their example and success stories to convince both the Conservatives and the next group.
Response 5: The Skeptics
“They don’t believe any of this,” Moore explained, “‘Me neither’ is the Skeptic’s favorite response — ‘Are you doing it? Me neither!’”

That makes it critical to get some Pragmatists on board by solving a pain point for them, since that denies the Skeptics the “me neither!” excuse. Once they see that something works, they, like the Conservatives, will be easier to move along.
Geoffrey Moore addressing Crush 2019
The broader psychology
It’s important to bear human nature in mind in managing technological change, starting with the fact that people are anxious to avoid change, and are happy to look for other, less-disruptive areas to focus their energy and resources, according to Moore.

“All organizations are conflicted,” he said. “There are a lot of places they could spend their IT dollars,” from marketing and business development to hiring new staff or acquiring other firms.

Being prepared to appropriately influence the different kind of tech personalities is critical to keeping the right level of focus on the technology and innovation needs of the firm, but Moore also warned against moving too fast.

“You don’t have to be first — you just have to keep up with the times. Customers don’t like to change. Be good enough, fast enough,” he said, though he added, “If you’re the disruptee, you need to catch up fast. You need to be willing to make mistakes — you don’t have time to eliminate them.”

Finally, he pointed out that seeing a project through is paramount: “When you start a transformation, the worst thing you can do is not finish it,” he said. “If you don’t, you go through most of the pain, but don’t end up with the reward.”