Diffusion of innovations is a theory that seeks to explain how, why, and at what rate new ideas and technology spread.
– Everett M. Rogers
The Diffusion of Innovations
All of us involved in introducing continuous improvement initiatives have likely taken note that the adoption of a change effort required more time and patience than originally planned for. We have learned that it is wise to plan accordingly and not attempt to compel compliance – it doesn’t work. Even small changes in organizations require time for people to assess and accept what those changes entail and the impact on themselves personally.
For employees to truly support and get behind a change effort, a critical mass of those colleagues must be attained. Until then, the majority will not join and come onboard. When a new program, new technology or improvement initiative is introduced into a work system, even if many think the idea is a good one, most employees are reluctant to show support until they are persuaded that others are getting behind it too. The effect is a slow start until a critical mass is reached, then a runaway snowball effect often takes place.
The graph below, based on the theory developed by E.M. Rogers in 1962, demonstrates the adoption sequence of a new concept, idea, behavior, innovation or product, among individuals and organizations. What this tells us is that regardless of the beneficial aspects of an innovation, its adoption does not happen simultaneously among all those impacted. Some will adopt an innovation faster than others – and some, perhaps never.
Critical Mass: A sufficient number of adopters of an innovation so that the rate of adoption becomes self-sustaining and creates further growth. – Typically, 10-25% of the population
As a CI leader it is important to understand that the adoption of innovations does not distinguish between executives, managers, supervisors and the frontline employees. In each of these employee groups you likely will find colleagues who fall into 5 classic adopter categories. Because someone holds a managerial role do not take for granted that they endorse the change initiative. They, like their frontline colleagues, will assess the likely impact of the initiative for themselves and what that means to them now and in the future.
Through additional research, we also learn that certain characteristics are shared among those who comprise these 5 adopter categories: Innovators, Early Adopters, Early Majority, Late Majority and Laggards. In the chart below, you can compare the differing descriptions of each adopter category and what additional information they may require to respond positively to the innovation, new program or improvement initiative.
- Even small changes in organizations take time as people assess what the change entails and the impact on them personally.
- Because someone holds a managerial role do not take for granted that they endorse the change initiative.
- Three critical factors likely to impact the rate at which critical mass accelerates:
- How quickly and enthusiastically “leaders” embrace the change
- The complexity of the change and ease of implementation
- Clear and immediate benefits
Wejnert, Barbara (August 2002). “Integrating models of diffusion of innovations: a conceptual framework”. Annual Review of Sociology. 28: 297–326. doi:10.1146/annurev.soc.28.110601.141051. JSTOR 3069244.