How To Do Life

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Are You Too Ahead of or Behind the Curve?

Should you be an earlier or later adopter?

I don’t always take the middle ground. For example, I’m an atheist and I choose to work off-the-charts work hours. But here I want to tout one form of middle ground: the middle adopter.

The leading edge can be the bleeding edge

Early adopters are often praised for their boldness. Alas, the leading edge too often turns out to be the bleeding edge: bugs and improvements not worth the cost of upgrading to Version 6.0.

Of course, one can be an early adopter outside of technology. For example, fashionistas gamely spend to keep up with what’s “in.” That’s determined by fashion corporations that spin a wheel every season to decide which clothing parts should be an inch wider or narrower, longer or shorter. Next year, they do the reverse. And the wheel spins to decide that, this season, the “in” color shall  hereby be lime green. Ten years ago, the corporations deemed lime green "the height of garishness." This year they anoint it “divine." Soon, they’ll declare it “passe.”

Even medical experts can burn early adopters. One year they urge, “Switch from butter to margarine.” The next year: “Switch back.” One year, they tout vitamin E but the next year smirk, "It just gives you expensive urine."

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Coming too late to the party

It also may be unwise to be a late adopter. For example, a surprising number of  people still refuse to learn how to use a computer, despite it significantly improving most people’s lives, for example, email, the Internet, Google, and YouTube. (I’m agnostic on whether Facebook is a net good.) And being poor may not be a big obstacle. For example, many libraries make computers available for free and even provide training.  

Another example of the too-late adopter: Some leaders still resist the now decades-old exhortation to replace an unbridled authoritarian, bottom-line-obsessed management style with a more nuanced approach: as appropriate, using collaboration or unilateral decision-making, and considering initiatives’ effects on people and planet as well as on profit.

Hail the middle adopter

So, as a rule of thumb, do you want to aim to be a middle adopter? That avoids being a guinea pig for unproven products and a sucker for this year's “new” ones. That also avoids your being a late adopter, waiting until your dithering has hurt you.

Being a middle adopter is often advantageous beyond technology, fashion, and health, for example, in your career. Some of my career counseling clients had sat on the sidelines for years waiting for the right career to hit them like a thunderbolt—“Eureka, I have found it!” In fact, few people have only one right career and most of those knew, as teenagers, they were meant to be a computer game designer, ballet dancer, entrepreneur, etc. By the time most people reach adulthood, after reading career guides, googling, and job shadowing for just a few weeks—okay maybe a few months--additional time is usually not worth it. Remember that if you’re choosing nothing, you’re choosing: That choice guarantees you don’t start on the often long process of becoming competent.

Same is true of relationships. Many single people would love to meet their perfect partner but how long do you wait until you decide to compromise or stop looking? True, the longer you hold out, the more likely you are to find the yin for your yang but also to remain single forever. It’s worth staying conscious of when the benefit of waiting starts to be outweighed by the benefit of acting.

That is my definition of the middle adopter: Someone who stays conscious of when the benefit of waiting is outweighed by the benefit of acting.

So, is there something in which you’d like to be an earlier or later adopter?

Marty Nemko was named “The Bay Area’s Best Career Coach” by the San Francisco Bay Guardian and he enjoys a 96 percent client-satisfaction rate. In addition to the articles here on PsychologyToday.com, many more of Marty Nemko's writings are archived on www.martynemko.com. Of his seven books, the most relevant to readers of this blog is How to Do Life: What They Didn’t Teach You in School. Marty Nemko's  bio is on Wikipedia.

Marty Nemko is a career and personal coach based in Oakland, Ca. and the author of 7 books. 
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