When New, Better, Faster Innovation Fails

Innovation is about great ideas – but it is also about diffusion – or how the innovation is communicated and adopted over time by members of a social system.  Meaning – that sometimes great improvements fail because enough people just don’t accept and use them.  Sometimes, something fabulous in many ways, is not worth the effort to overcome an established method or product – that is already EVERYWHERE.

Case in point – Take a look at your keyboard or phone just a few feet or inches away. phone keyboardChances are VERY good that the first six keys of top row with letters are QWERTY.  Did you ever wonder who determined (and why, why, why!) keyboard lettering would be such a jumbled random disorder?

In 1873, Christopher Latham Sholes intentionally put the lettered keys in this order to SLOW down typists who were typing so quickly, the mechanics of then-day typewriters were jamming.

By 1932, typewriters had advanced and jamming keys were no longer an issue. This is when Professor August Dvorak conducted time and motion studies to successfully create a much more efficient keyboard ordering of letters. In doing so, Dvorak determined that the fingers of typists using the “old” configuration of keys, traveled more than 12 miles per day!

He determined that 70% of typing involved the letters A, O, E, U, I, D, H, T, N, and S and Dvorakplaced those letters in the center “home row” of the keyboard. The order of the keys also took into account the work of each finger according to its typical skill and strength. He also engineered the order of the letters so keystrokes generally were done by alternating hands to enable each finger to get into position quickly. This was accomplished by placing the most commonly used vowels to the left (usually the less dominate hand) and the most frequently used consonants to the right. This resulted in 56% of the typing being performed by the usually stronger right hand.

Nonetheless, for all of its wonderfully engineered, studied and proven improved efficiency, the Dvorak keyboard has not met with widespread acceptance. It takes about a week’s worth of “retraining” to become proficient – and you can expect little accommodation to your newly learned skill to apply to many other places in the world. Nonetheless, Dvorak keyboards are available for those willing to modify years of ubiquitous QWERTY indoctrination.  And finally, a nod to Professor Dvorak for his attempts to make things better.

Rogers, E.R. (2003). Diffusion of innovations. New York, NY: Free Press.

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