Saturday, January 11, 2020

Off the Shelf:
Crossing the Chasm

It's been a long time since I wrote anything about the books I've been reading—not since November 30, to be exact. And then, it wasn't even a post about a book I was reading; it was only about a book I hoped to read. (Update: hints so well taken, I received two copies of said edition for Christmas. Now I can share.)

As it turned out, A Rebel Came Home, that reading project for December, contained several references to my extended Pendleton kin, amply meeting my expectations. The book also helped set a framework for the era and location in which the story was set, further amplifying my understanding of this set of third great-grandparents and their extended family and social circles.

Now, on the eve of traveling to the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy, where I'll be focusing on Virginia colonial research, my choice of readable traveling companion turns out to be radically different. At one point, despite everyone here knowing about the foibles of my eclectic reading tastes, I hesitated to include this book in my blogging lineup. After all, the main reason you stop by to keep up with A Family Tapestry is that you, too, are specifically interested in genealogy.

Clue: this month's book is not about family history. And then, again, yes it is. It is, at least, if I have my chance to explain myself.

It was only on account of something mentioned yesterday by one of our genealogy society's board members that I decided to mention this book. You see, at our monthly board meeting yesterday, our vice president, who happens to also belong to another local society, mentioned a desperate letter issued by this neighboring society to their membership. According to the letter, their board was sending out a call for help. Many of their board members had resigned or were unable to complete their term, and the current operating board had been precariously whittled down to only a couple directors.

The catch: no one else, among their members, was stepping up to take anyone's place. This board—and the society it direct—is dying by attrition. No new volunteers, no society. Simple as that.

In the face of that, in this hopeful start to a new year—who can resist the encouraging pull of being in the midst of focus on 2020?—I had just cracked open the cover of a book by high-tech start-up advisor, Geoffrey Moore. Moore's first book, Crossing the Chasm, has become somewhat of an industry standard, undergoing two revisions to bring the original 1991 text up to date with this 2014 paperback third edition.

Of course, my main reason for reading this book wasn't genealogy, despite the fact that family history is always on my mind. The reason was really connected to our family's business. A training company, ours is an outgrowth of serving other businesses with organizational development needs, particularly in leadership issues and the strategic planning so vital to growing a business. The goal of the book—providing advice on "marketing and selling disruptive products to mainstream customers"—aligned neatly with some new projects we are planning. I wanted to see what this author had to say.

The concepts of growth outlined in Moore's Crossing the Chasm aren't new, or even original with him. The "Technology Adoption Life Cycle" that he refers to in his work with high tech companies is basically the life cycle of how any innovation moves from the brainchild spawned directly from a creative's mind to the pervasive product which ends up changing an entire culture (or at least, that's the hope). While Moore examined case studies from the technology sector to build his argument—and has ever since been used by those in that field to model their revised approach for upcoming projects—my contention is that the basic concepts found in Crossing the Chasm can be applied to other applications, even if they are far from the "high" in high tech.

Take the example of what we are experiencing in genealogy right now. For the past several years now, we've seen leading companies—whether for-profit or non-profit—reconfigure the process of researching family history and present those results so close at hand that almost everyone is "doing it," whether subscribing to or taking a DNA test or just watching a genealogy-oriented program like Dr. Henry Louis Gates' Finding Your Roots. We are riding the wave of interest generated by these big organizations—and yet, there is a gap between public interest and our ability, as local genealogical societies, to connect with that potential participation level.

My question, of course, is how to equip societies to intersect with this potential interest level and bridge the chasm between public interest by the individuals "out there" and societies' array of services to help convert that potential research energy into kinetic research energy.

I often learn by watching others do; in this application, that's why I'm reading Crossing the Chasm. Other than the computers we use to access digitized records at genealogical companies, you can't get more "low tech" than family history, but when it comes to the question of how societies can help individuals now awakened to the fascination of finding our roots, we can benefit from the play books of these high tech companies. After all, as organizations, we have our own chasms to cross, too.   


  1. It is an interesting relationship between the local societies and online communities, isn't it. A larger community near us disbanded their society. Many members are attending our monthly meetings which usually host 15-30 members. What are we doing right? I am not even sure.

    1. It always grieves me when I hear of a local genealogical society disbanding, Miss Merry. Who knows what you are doing right. It may just be that you are still there where people feel the need to gather together and talk about their genealogy passion!


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