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S-Curve of Change

Technological change does not follow a linear progression. We tend to see change as slowly happening over time, that each year a few more people have adapted a particular new thing. That kind of change is represented by the straight black line on the drawing. However most of the time change does not happen in a straight line progression but follows an s-curve like the red (pink?) line on the chart

In the early years of some new product, service or technology there are very few users. Just some early adopters, hobbyists and risk takers. Over time the number of users increases slowly until a critical tipping point is reached.

At this time the new technology enters a period of rapid growth. In a very short time the number of users doubles, doubles again and very soon the new technology, product or service has become mainstream.

This s-curve is obvious with some technologies, like cell phones. Cells phones were first developed in 1974. For years the number of cell phone users grew slowly, then suddenly in the mid 90s (twenty years after it was invented) cell phones reached a tipping point and over night it seemed everybody had a cell phone. Now there are more cell phone lines that there are traditional wired land lines.


A good dental example is the use of computer technology in the treatment rooms. For years the number of dentists using computers in the treatment rooms grew slowly. Around 2003 we reached the tipping point and suddenly the number of dentist with clinical computers is growing exponentially. The June 2006 DPR technology survey reported that 62% of the responding dentists had computers in the treatment rooms. Computers in the treatment rooms are considered standard today. Digital radiography followed a similar pattern. For twenty years digital radiography use grew slowly then suddenly took off following adaptation of computers in the treatment rooms.

The dental high tech system that seems to poised on the edge of a similar tipping point in 2013 is CAD CAM and associated digital impression systems.

Other emerging technologies that have few users now but have great disruptive potential once a tipping point is reached are:  Digital Diagnostics, Cone Beam CT, Interactive Patient Portals, Artificial Intelligence Diagnosis and Cloud Based Practice Management especially now the Henry Schein has entered the mix..

The critical lesson from this is to be aware and not get caught. If you expect change to continue in a slow straight line progression it is easy to put off adopting new technologies. However once the tipping point is reached you can be rapidly left behind, you will be at a distinct competitive disadvantage and catching up may be difficult.

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