Factors Influencing Diffusion Strategy05/06/2020
Diffusion of innovations is a theory that seeks to explain how, why, and at what rate new ideas and technology spread. Everett Rogers, a professor of communication studies, popularized the theory in his book Diffusion of Innovations; the book was first published in 1962, and is now in its fifth edition (2003). Rogers argues that diffusion is the process by which an innovation is communicated over time among the participants in a social system. The origins of the diffusion of innovations theory are varied and span multiple disciplines.
Rogers proposes that four main elements influence the spread of a new idea: the innovation itself, communication channels, time, and a social system. This process relies heavily on human capital. The innovation must be widely adopted in order to self-sustain. Within the rate of adoption, there is a point at which an innovation reaches critical mass.
The categories of adopters are innovators, early adopters, early majority, late majority, and laggards. Diffusion manifests itself in different ways and is highly subject to the type of adopters and innovation-decision process. The criterion for the adopter categorization is innovativeness, defined as the degree to which an individual adopts a new idea.
The concept of diffusion was first studied by the French sociologist Gabriel Tarde in late 19th century and by German and Austrian anthropologists and geographers such as Friedrich Ratzel and Leo Frobenius. The study of diffusion of innovations took off in the subfield of rural sociology in the midwestern United States in the 1920s and 1930s. Agriculture technology was advancing rapidly, and researchers started to examine how independent farmers were adopting hybrid seeds, equipment, and techniques. A study of the adoption of hybrid corn seed in Iowa by Ryan and Gross (1943) solidified the prior work on diffusion into a distinct paradigm that would be cited consistently in the future. Since its start in rural sociology, Diffusion of Innovations has been applied to numerous contexts, including medical sociology, communications, marketing, development studies, health promotion, organizational studies, knowledge management, conservation biology and complexity studies, with a particularly large impact on the use of medicines, medical techniques, and health communications. In organizational studies, its basic epidemiological or internal-influence form was formulated by H. Earl Pemberton, such as postage stamps and standardized school ethics codes.
In 1962, Everett Rogers, a professor of rural sociology, published his seminal work: Diffusion of Innovations. Rogers synthesized research from over 508 diffusion studies across the fields that initially influenced the theory: anthropology, early sociology, rural sociology, education, industrial sociology and medical sociology. Using his synthesis, Rogers produced a theory of the adoption of innovations among individuals and organizations. Diffusion of Innovations and Rogers’ later books are among the most often cited in diffusion research. His methodologies are closely followed in recent diffusion research, even as the field has expanded into, and been influenced by, other methodological disciplines such as social network analysis and communication.
Characteristics of innovations
Studies have explored many characteristics of innovations. Meta-reviews have identified several characteristics that are common among most studies. These are in line with the characteristics that Rogers initially cited in his reviews.
Potential adopters evaluate an innovation on its relative advantage (the perceived efficiencies gained by the innovation relative to current tools or procedures), its compatibility with the pre-existing system, its complexity or difficulty to learn, its trialability or testability, its potential for reinvention (using the tool for initially unintended purposes), and its observed effects. These qualities interact and are judged as a whole. For example, an innovation might be extremely complex, reducing its likelihood to be adopted and diffused, but it might be very compatible with a large advantage relative to current tools. Even with this high learning curve, potential adopters might adopt the innovation anyway.
Studies also identify other characteristics of innovations, but these are not as common as the ones that Rogers lists above. The fuzziness of the boundaries of the innovation can impact its adoption. Specifically, innovations with a small core and large periphery are easier to adopt. Innovations that are less risky are easier to adopt as the potential loss from failed integration is lower. Innovations that are disruptive to routine tasks, even when they bring a large relative advantage, might not be adopted because of added instability. Likewise, innovations that make tasks easier are likely to be adopted. Closely related to relative complexity, knowledge requirements are the ability barrier to use presented by the difficulty to use the innovation. Even when there are high knowledge requirements, support from prior adopters or other sources can increase the chances for adoption.
Characteristics of individual adopters
Like innovations, adopters have been determined to have traits that affect their likelihood to adopt an innovation. A bevy of individual personality traits have been explored for their impacts on adoption, but with little agreement. Ability and motivation, which vary on situation unlike personality traits, have a large impact on a potential adopter’s likelihood to adopt an innovation. Unsurprisingly, potential adopters who are motivated to adopt an innovation are likely to make the adjustments needed to adopt it. Motivation can be impacted by the meaning that an innovation holds; innovations can have symbolic value that encourage (or discourage) adoption. First proposed by Ryan and Gross (1943), the overall connectedness of a potential adopter to the broad community represented by a city. Potential adopters who frequent metropolitan areas are more likely to adopt an innovation. Finally, potential adopters who have the power or agency to create change, particularly in organizations, are more likely to adopt an innovation than someone with less power over his choices.
Characteristics of organizations
Organizations face more complex adoption possibilities because organizations are both the aggregate of its individuals and its own system with a set of procedures and norms. Three organizational characteristics match well with the individual characteristics above: tension for change (motivation and ability), innovation-system fit (compatibility), and assessment of implications (observability). Organizations can feel pressured by a tension for change. If the organization’s situation is untenable, it will be motivated to adopt an innovation to change its fortunes. This tension often plays out among its individual members. Innovations that match the organization’s pre-existing system require fewer coincidental changes and are easy to assess and more likely to be adopted. The wider environment of the organization, often an industry, community, or economy, exerts pressures on the organization, too. Where an innovation is diffusing through the organization’s environment for any reason, the organization is more likely to adopt it. Innovations that are intentionally spread, including by political mandate or directive, are also likely to diffuse quickly.