Beverly Hills Cop and the Diffusion Framework

One of the most useful frameworks I’ve learned at Kellogg is Geoffrey Moore’s diffusion framework. One of my favourite people is Beverly Hill Cop’s Axel Foley. I was delighted to discover that I could combine the two.

Most people in tech have, at some point, flicked through “Crossing the Chasm”. It describes how a new technology can diffuse from a neat technology demo into something people use every day. There are five sets of people involved in making that happen. The first segment persuades the second, the second the third, and so on … and it all starts with an idea. Axel’s idea.

Axel is an innovator.
You have a very big mouth
“You have a very big mouth, sir.”

Axel doesn’t get things done in the usual way. He comes up with new ways of solving problems (crimes). He has a pretty interesting theory about who killed his friend Michael Tandino, but he needs to convince a whole series of police officers in order to secure a conviction for the killer. The first one to believe him is Billy.

Billy is an Early Adopter.
Running out of ammo
“You know what I keep thinking about?”

Billy is the first of the Beverly Hills Police Department to believe Axel’s theory about Victor Maitland being a drug dealer and smuggler. He doesn’t come up with great ideas himself, but he can see the potential in great ideas when they arrive, and is adept at understanding their implications.

(Usually, an Early Adopter is organised and mercenary about getting deadlines and project plans in place. In this case, Billy is a bit of a scatterbrain.) Next in line is the Captain.

Captain Bogamil is part of the Early Majority.
Is this what really happened?
“Is this what really happened?”

This transition is critical. This is what Moore refers to as the “chasm”, because it’s so hard to get Bogamil to accept Axel’s theory. There are two reasons why – Bogamil likes doing things by the book, and sees no reason to change. If there’s cause for a conviction, it should be presented in the same way as usual. Bogamil wants “evolution, not revolution”. Worse – Bogamil’s buddies are all other cops like Bogamil. He doesn’t really listen to what Billy has to say.

Forget what you can prove ... talk to me.
“Forget what you can prove … talk to me.”

So how can Bogamil be convinced? In this scene, Axel suddenly drops his act and starts talking like a police officer. Suddenly, Bogamil can relate to his theory and asks Taggart to look into the problem, not allowing a Detroit detective to solve the crime. His solution is inherently practical, and that’s the key to selling to the Early Majority. They want a practical solution to the problem. At the same time, Bogamil can see the value in Axel’s theory.

Taggart is part of the Late Majority.
You're going to pay for this.
“You’re going to pay for this.”

Taggart is not big on theories. He’s practical, sure – but remains a sceptic even at the point where they are invading Maitland’s house and shooting bad guys. He would prefer it if Axel had never arrived in Beverly Hills – but by the last scene, where’s it’s clear that Axel’s theory is the truth, he has accepted the state of affairs. The last scene brings back the Chief.

The Chief is a Laggard.
You expect me to believe that report?
“You expect me to believe that report?”

The Chief is staunchly opposed to Axel and his theories, not even stopping to listen to what he has to say. He will pay a price (ignorance) to avoid Axel’s theory, and in the end has to be lied to in order to avoid acceptance.

From each stage, the previous group is the strongest influencer of the next. Billy knows he will never be able to convince Taggart of anything. At the end, the Chief asks Taggart to tell him what actually happened – as a Laggard, his closest reference is a Late Majority user like Taggart.

I hope this illustrates how the Technology Diffusion framework can be used to write classic 80s films. All we need now is Harold Faltermeyer.

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