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How Innovation Helps to Jump over the “Chasm”

March 4, 2016 by Dr. Jon Warner in Entrepreneurship

How Innovation Helps to Jump over the “Chasm”

In the author Geoffrey Moore’s book “Crossing the Chasm” he describes how every leader or entrepreneur can navigate his or her way through the new product or service innovation cycle. Of course, a product or service is not an innovation (and only therefore an idea) until some part of the market or a particular niche of customers adopts it.  What the model in Moore’s book shown below allows us to do is see that every product or service that makes it beyond an idea is likely to follow a progressive journey to get to widespread adoption (assuming it finally makes it of course).  This journey may be relatively fast or slow but will always have a chasm to traverse.

"The Chasm"

In reviewing the cycle above we can see that initially an individual comes up with an idea.  A likely scenario could be they discovered some customer pain or dissatisfaction and through some brainstorming and simple testing, came up with a basic idea that relieves or alleviates the situation.  They share this idea with the customer in question and lets them try it out (and maybe shares it with a few other possible customers). 

As the product or service sharing starts to widen and a few possible customers get to hear about the idea and what it does Early Adopters begin to come forward who have heard about this new practice/idea/concept/product/service and want to experience it.  These individuals typically like new solutions and experimenting with prototypes and minimal viable products (or MVP’s as they are called for short) and are therefore a great testing ground.  This means that they can often use the new product/practice/service in various ways (some as designed and some as not, in many cases) pushing it into directions that could be useful to a less pioneering but much larger customer base.  However, there is a huge gap between a few early adopters using the new product or service and getting to those people who will use it at scale and this is what Moore calls the “chasm”. 

The Chasm represents the great leap it takes in time and money to finally convince a lot of people to commit to a new product or service long enough to buy it.  And because the very early pioneers and early adopters typically only account for up to 15% of the overall customer population (and often it’s less than 10%), it may not be enough to catapult the product or service across the chasm to reach the early majority.

Assuming the entrepreneur’s product or service makes it across the chasm (with enough money and perseverance in the main) the first group to follow the pioneers are called the Early Majority.  This group of customers have typically adopted products/services at a relatively early stage in the past but not before quite a few “bugs” have been ironed out. As such, the product or service needs to clearly provide some clear and tangible gain or advantage for its price and should not require too much effort to use it.

Next in the cycle come the Late Majority or sometimes called conservative customers. This group wants to be very careful about using a new product or service and will wait to make sure that many customers have experienced it before jumping in.

Finally the Laggards are the customer population that may or may not buy the product. If they do it will be well after the vast majority of people have done so and the value has been widely proved (so why not follow). If they don’t it’s because they are hugely invested in the prior solutions in this area of pain or do not want to switch away from what they have been comfortable doing in the past.

The Innovation cycle model with the huge challenge of the chasm to be leapt is a useful way to think about the launch of any product or service you might be considering. It can therefore be applied in launch planning efforts by segregating these different customer populations and targeting them very specifically.  This may often mean that what the product or service is said to do, with what features and at what price can be “flexed” to fit the next group on the chart to be targeted.

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About Dr. Jon Warner

Dr. Jon Warner is a prolific author, management consultant and executive coach with over 25 years experience. He has an MBA and a PhD in Organizational Psychology. Jon can be reached at

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One Comment

  1. Jessica WahlMarch 14, 2016 at 9:01 am

    Thank you for this article.

About the Editor and Primary Author

Jon Warner

Jon Warner is an executive coach and management consultant and in the past has been a CEO in three very different companies. Read more

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