Glasses that made Google short-sighted: Author explores how change happens and why it often fails – including the tech company’s specs
- Damon Centola has penned a thought-provoking book about how change works
- When Google Glass was debuted in 2013, it became a monumental flop
- Author suggests it was due to a failure to understand the science of networks
CHANGE: HOW TO MAKE BIG THINGS HAPPEN
by Damon Centola (John Murray £20 352 pp)
In 2013, Google came up with what they thought would be a game-changing invention. Google Glass was a pair of specs that gave wearers direct access to the internet as well as the ability to interact with their surroundings.
The idea should have been a huge success: an innovative product, backed by Google’s vast marketing resources. In fact, it was a monumental flop. What happened?
Damon Centola believes he knows: everybody heard about Google Glass, but the only people wearing the specs were techies. And instead of use spreading from these early adopters to the populace, the populace decided the techies were weird.
Damon Centola has penned a book about how change works and why it often fails. Pictured: Demonstration of Google Glass
The glasses didn’t make consumers aspire to own them. Quite the reverse. People even came up with a rude word to describe those who wore them — ‘Glassholes’. In Centola’s view, the failure of Google Glass was a failure to understand social networks. ‘The science of networks,’ he writes in his thought-provoking book, ‘is the study of how things spread. How do the connections we share with people around us affect the way that … ideas, trends, and behaviours move through communities and societies around the world?’
And networks don’t always work in the ways we expect. We don’t necessarily listen to early adopters and social influencers. When it comes to changing behaviour, we’re most likely to listen to people like us. If we’re unfit and want to get fitter, we’re going to take advice from those who can run a mile without breaking into a sweat, aren’t we? Wrong, according to Centola.
In an experiment he conducted himself, he found the exact opposite. Unfit individuals were much more likely to adopt a technique designed to improve fitness if they heard about it from someone who was huffing and puffing through their morning exercise as much as they were.
For any problem in society, it’s not always difficult to come up with a solution. It’s convincing people to make use of it that’s hard work.
CHANGE: HOW TO MAKE BIG THINGS HAPPEN by Damon Centola (John Murray £20 352 pp)
The best method, Centola argues, is to make use of the insights gained from studying social networks. If we want more people to adopt solar power, for instance, it’s not just about informing them of its benefits, or offering financial incentives.
In Japan, a study showed that the strongest predictor of whether people would install solar panels was the number of others in the neighbourhood who had already done so. The challenge is to find the tipping point at which change takes hold.
Centola’s book covers a wide variety of topics: the impact of a San Francisco earthquake on the early growth of Twitter; how Korean villagers were converted to contraception; why the Qwerty keyboard has triumphed over better designed rivals; whether the fist bump will replace the handshake; and many more.
It’s a fascinating account of how change works and why it so often fails.