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Mark Twain’s User Adoption Insights – Part Four

This is the fourth in a five part series, originally published on the Tri Tuns blog.

Start at the beginning here.


It’s amazing to consider how the insights and teachings of Mark Twain — a man who died decades before modern information systems were even conceived –may hold some of the greatest lessons for how to deliver successful technology adoption programs.

So in this fourth installment of our look at Mark’s words in relation to motivation as it exists within IT user adoption programs.

When examined in the context of various aspects of effective user adoption programs, Mark shows us some of the common mistakes and misplaced assumptions that often plague many IT projects.

As I’m asking throughout this series — how can you use Mark’s insights to deliver a more effective user adoption program?


Motivation is key to user adoption. Motivation is internal to the individual, and cannot be prescribed. While you can make some assumptions about what motivates people, truly understanding motivations require that you listen to people and watch for unspoken cues about what matters to them.

Many IT projects get into trouble because they assume they can just tell people, “what’s in it for me” (WIIFM) and the people will adopt the system. However, they often try to do this without first learning, “what’s importantto me”.

Further, they often discount or ignore the role that human emotion plays in motivation. Finally, the role that leadership plays in motivating – or many times, demotivating – is often underestimated. Quite simply, most communication projects fundamentally miss the boat when it comes to understanding and addressing the motivation component of user adoption. Not surprisingly, Mark Twain has some insights on this as well.


  • “Any emotion, if it is sincere, is involuntary.”

  • “I can live for two months on a good compliment.”

  • “The cat, having sat upon a hot stove lid, will not sit upon a hot stove lid again. But he won’t sit upon a cold stove lid, either.”

  • “Of all the things I’ve lost, I miss my mind the most.”


<< Part Three – Communication
<< Part Two – Assumptions, Skills, Education & Experience
<< Part One – Introduction and User Adoption Strategy

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Amelia Brunelle

I love this one: “The cat, having sat upon a hot stove lid, will not sit upon a hot stove lid again. But he won’t sit upon a cold stove lid, either.” I think that speaks well to the importance of quality at launch time, on each and every new interface or program. A wide number of people in (and out) of gov’t that once tried a new initiative or new collaboration tool, or new mobile device, had a terrible experience and now refuse to try again with new programs or products. We form the same type of triggers in our brain as cats (not exactly I’m sure, but similar). When developing user interfaces and launching new programs, we could all focus a bit more on excellence and easy of use and consider the ramifications of not launching a fully vetted, quality product or program. Not only could that program fail to draw in users but it could burn people enough to sabotage future projects as well.