On my power walks on the paved beachside footpath I am the sole person using Nordic Walking poles. In fact, I have never seen anyone using those on all my trips to Australia. I discovered the Nordic Walking poles when I had to stop running 10 years ago and they have been my best training companions ever since. I take them everywhere and they have afforded me fantastic power walks in all sorts of places. According to Wikipedia (and those marketing the poles) Nordic walking produces up to a 46% increase in energy consumption, compared to walking without poles. You also use more muscles in the upper part of your body. The Nordic poles are ubiquitous in Sweden, but here in Melbourne, people stare at me when I pace by.
So why hasn’t this innovation – so popular in the Nordic countries – made its way to Australia, where a lot of (middle-class) people are quite into exercise of all kinds? You can see groups of people with personal trainers all days of the week, exercising in public parks, using balls, weights, and walking in ways that would fit into a Silly walks sketch by Monty Pyton any day. So it isn’t that Aussies don’t like using tools when they exercise or are afraid to look ridiculous in public. But then, what?
This bugs me and I think about it quite often as I pump away on the path because I am not used to being alone with a new gadget. In fact, I am what the Diffusion of Innovations Theory (Rogers, 1962) calls a member of the “Late majority” as opposed to the Innovators, Early Adopters, and Early Majority. I got an iPhone when everyone else already had one and still can’t be bothered to find out the difference between the models. And I start a blog when there are more blogs around than people can bother to read… Well, at least I am not a Laggard.
It is, indeed, the Diffusion of Innovations Theory we have to go to for gaining insight into the lack of Nordic poles among the exercise tools in Australia. According to Rogers, there are five characteristics of innovations that influence an individual’s decision to adopt it. These are: Relative Advantage, Complexity or Simplicity, Trialability, Observability, and Compatibility. The Nordic poles do have a relative advantage compared to simple power walking in terms of exercise effectiveness, it’s simple to learn their use as well as to try them out, and anyone can observe that you have them. But is Nordic Walking compatible to people’s lifestyle here? I thought, yes. But two ladies jogged past me today and asked me if I was training for skiing, which reinforced what I had heard a few days before, when a mother explained to her little daughter that I was training for walking in lots of snow. So Nordic Walking is not compatible with the Aussie lifestyle because it is perceived to have to do with snow and skiing and, well – most Australians will live their lives without ever seeing snow. So no wonder people look at me and my poles with some skepticism.
The genius of Steve Jobs lay with him identifying products that did a majestic job on all prerequisites of an easily adoptable innovation, especially the compatibility aspect. You didn’t know how badly you needed an iPhone until you got one.
What bothers me is that many of our social innovations, such as parenting programs for universal use, have a lot of trouble to diffuse into society. As professionals, we tend to analyse what is wrong with the adopters – the parents – when we have difficulties filling our parenting seminars, groups, or individual sessions. I think what we need to do is rather ask ourselves how these innovations are doing in terms of adoptability. Do they even have a relative advantage as perceived by parents? Are they simple enough? Can parents try them without having to sign up for eight sessions? And most of all, are they compatible with parents’ lifestyles, fitting in seamlessly with their everyday lives and needs? Because if not, there will be no “iParent” phenomenon happening. It will rather be like the case of Nordic poles in Australia – an anomaly.