Joining the progressive minority, being able to say “I had it first”, designer Marc Peridis explores the many benefits of a life as an early adopter
You might be familiar with the theory of ‘diffusion of innovations’. It was developed by Everett Rogers in 1968 to explain how, why, and at what rate new ideas and technology integrate in cultures. In simple terms: it’s a scientific and mathematical answer to questions like “Why the hell would someone queue for 14 days in freezing rain to buy the new iPhone on the first day, when they can waltz in and buy it off the shelf the following week?”
The answer is simple: they wanted to be the first.
So what is so great, or so important about being first? Sure, there is always that superficial ego-boost attached to telling people, “I had it first!” but in reality, the mileage behind that is pretty limited.
According to Rogers’ theory (see chart above), innovations must be widely adopted in order to self-sustain. Of the 5 categories of adopters are, innovators, early adopters, early majority, late majority, and laggards, the 3 last categories represent 84% of the population and won’t be inclined to try anything until someone (namely an ‘early adopter’) has tried it first. Therefore, without those first 16%, the cycle wouldn’t exist and advancement of the product in question would be unachievable.
As a designer, I keep thinking back to Ray and Charles Eames who secretly snuck materials into their LA apartment late at night to produce the world’s first moulded plywood chair in the mid 1940’s, or Ludwig Mies van der Rohe who began experimenting with injection moulding in the 1930’s, a process which later revolutionised chair-making despite initially being met with doubt and rejection from sceptics. It took over 30 years for it to see the light of day.
Another striking example is Vivienne Westwood whose first shop “Sex” (kitted with rubber curtains, harnesses and various other toys) was meant to provoke and raise topics that were considered taboo when it opened in the 1960’s. Westwood went on to help create the punk movement, revolutionizing British society, who’s fearless followers later went on to pillaging her very shops, contributing to their continuous loss.
For decades, Westwood’s shops operated at a loss, being pillaged and ravaged by the reckless followers of the punk movement, the very one she had helped create in the first place.
Today, innovation carries a much more crucial social responsibility and the grand dame of British fashion (who is still as radical as ever) bears a very different message.
“Don’t buy anything!” she exclaims as she stands at the edge of her catwalk, calling our attention to the fact that our consumerist and wasteful behaviours are gravely endangering our planet and threatening our species.
She is right. According to the world health organisation (WHO), climate change causes 150,000 deaths each year. By 2030, annual deaths will likely reach 400,000/year, most of these in developing countries who lack the resources to respond effectively.
This being the case, the 16% early adopters will now play a much more significant role as the decision to opt-in to “early” innovations will determine the fate of hundreds of thousands of people and eventually of our entire species.
One of my favourite parts of being the owner/director of a sustainable gallery is to constantly be in collaboration with pioneers who use their inventive spirits and sensitivity to our global condition to develop ideas that will, ultimately, save us from extinction.
People like model Lily Cole who developed Impossible.com, an online skills-sharing community which develops and promotes products made using responsible processes, the pioneers at Fairphone who have recently launched the second version of the world’s first ethical and sustainable smartphone, and Merel Karhof, a pioneering furniture designer whose Windworks seating collection is the world’s first to use exclusively the force of wind in its fabrication.
Unfortunately, these revolutionary projects benefit from little or no visibility mainly because of lack of funding. High start-up costs combined with the general lack of following and enthusiasm from the masses often means it’s “Game Over” for these ‘would-be ground-breaking’ projects before they even start. For a shift to happen, mind-sets need to change. Sadly, the general public still shudders at the mere mention of the word “sustainability” wrongly believing that products will be lower quality, less attractive and overpriced compared to those currently widely adopted.
Yet, brands like Marithe Francois-Guirbaud challenge that very belief by developing some of the industry’s most fashion-forward jeans whilst using revolutionary processes replacing typical water-based dyeing techniques with ones using laser and light. A typical pair of jeans uses an alarming 11,000 litres of water per pair in its making.
Meanwhile, the best-tasting coffee in London is still served up in stunning soho-based Bar Termini, who’s management team has made it its mission to work sustainably, using only coffee brands which provide the highest returns to the local farmers, refusing to do take-away service (a bold, greatly limiting business move which avoids the wasteful use of paper cups) and working tirelessly at keeping water and general waste to levels much below those of their neighbours.
In design, product designer Marjan Van Aubel’s Current Window system, the first to convert sunlight into electricity which powers our homes, has recently won awards from both Swarovski and Wallpaper magazine landing it a top spot amongst the most coveted and sought-after design around.
These examples are just a few proving that sustainability doesn’t have to mean a sacrifice of style, and adding a new allure to Everett Rogers’ theory on innovation.
Well beyond the simple ego-led motivation of saying “I had it first!” is the fact that being in that 16% means you are also choosing to be part of a heroic, very progressive minority, leading a crucial change in the world. And when you consider who else has been doing it lately, it also means you’ll be joining the ranks of the new “cool kids on the block”.