Plotting Change

by Larry Emmott on August 11, 2009

in General,Management

Most every change in our dental practice (in fact in any business) will follow an S curve. This is true of anything new but is especially evident with technological change. You can plot an S curve with the % of people using a new technology along the vertical axis and time along the horizontal. If we are going to manage change it is helpful to anticipate if the change will be very rapid with a steep S slope like this:


Or a more gradual change with a gradual slope like this:


Well it turns out there is a formula to help anticipate the slope of an S curve change. Extreme math nerds will recognize that this is a classic calculus function however there is a slightly easier way to figure this out. (This comes from the very interesting book the Innovator’s Prescription by business guru Clayton Christensen.)

If you plot the vertical axis not just as the percentage of users but as a ratio of the percentage of new users divided by the percentage of people still using the old system you will get a new set of numbers. For example when use is 50-50 the number is 1. When 100% of people have switched the number is 10. When 10% of people are using the new system the number is 0.1. OK now for a bit of math nerdom you set up the vertical axis as a logarithmic scale. Don’t panic that sounds harder than it is, a log scale simply changes by a factor of ten instead of one. So the vertical axis has equal distances between these numbers: 0.0001 – 0.001 – 0.01 – 0.1 – 1.0 and 10.

If you can get around all the math and equally important if you have some good data you can plot some lines. Instead of an S curve you should get a straight line. If the line has a gradual slope like this:


The change when it comes will be slower. However if you plot a steep line like this:


Watch out when the tipping point hits the change will be very rapid. Armed with this information you can make some informed choices. Is this the year I get digital radiography or is there some other technology that is coming along faster that will become mainstream?

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