Exploring Diffusion and Adoption for Innovation – Part 1

Theory and RealityAccording to Professor Clayton Christensen and drawn from his book Seeing What’s Next: Using the Theories of Innovation to Predict Industry Change”, by Clayton M. Christensen, Scott D. Anthony, and Erik A. Roth published by Harvard Business School Press, the only way to look into the future is to use theories.

The best way to make accurate sense of the present, and the best way to look into the future, is through the lens of theory.” The theory of innovation helps to understand the forces that shape the context and influence natural decisions.

This might not be fashionable for many because as soon as you introduce “theory” into the discussion for many of my practical colleagues they want to dismiss it.

Going back to Christensen “good theory provides a robust way to understand important developments, even when the data is limited. “Theory helps to block out the noise and to amplify the signal”.

Diffusion of Innovation Theory is important for our innovation understanding

One set of theories I believe we simply cannot ignore even more today lies around the work of Everett. M. Rogers where he outlined his thinking in his book Diffusion of Innovations the first edition was published in 1962. The fifth edition (2003, with Nancy Singer Olaguera) addresses the spread of the Internet, and how it has transformed the way human beings communicate and adopt new ideas.

Over three posts I will look at different aspects of “diffusion and adoption”

The first post, this one, outlined the different theories and establish their value in our thinking.

The second post, relates these theories into their to achieve success in penetrations of our target markets and increase sales through growing adoption.

The third and final post in this series looks at how Rogers’ theories relate to us in today’s connected world, and in particular with reference to Apple and finally offers up some of the reasons why diffusion can fail to occur.

First we need to have a clear grounding or reminder within the theories

By developing our understanding of why some products seem easier to diffuse while others can take longer or often fail, innovators can improve their likelihood of understanding the differences through exploring these different diffusion and adoption theories.

Besides the classic “S-shaped curve” associated with diffusion it is useful to also reflect on this tougher curve to manage from its development costs into profit requires a greater focus on the commercialization stages.


Product and People determine diffusion and adoption

According to Rogers the rate of diffusion can be attributed to a combination of “product differences” and “people differences”

Product differences

Research suggests that up to 87 per cent of the variance in an innovation rate of diffusion can be attributed to the following five product characteristics. These are known as Rogers Five –characteristics of Innovation.

Relative advantage refers to the degree perceived to be better than the product (or service) it replaces.

Compatibility is the extent to which an innovation is perceived as being consistent with the values, past experiences and needs of potential adopters.

Complexity is the degree to which the new innovation is perceived as being difficult to understand or use.

Trialability is the degree to which the new innovation can be experimented with, piloted and used on a limited basis.

Observability is the degree to which the results of an innovation are visible, observed and communicated to others and where the rate of adoption can often be determined.

People differences

Once the product’s position in relationship to the Rogers Five Factors is known, the diffusion process is best managed by focusing on the people difference. The classic bell curve is broken down in the five categories of adopters. 


It is from this initial work of Rogers we then got Geoffrey Moore’s classic on “Crossing the Chasm” which recently have been significantly updated in a recently released book around the Technology Adoption Lifecycle. The chasm can happen throughout the early adopters phase, you have to be alert and responsive enough to finding solutions quickly enough to bridge this and ‘cross that chasm.’ Pivoting on the parts that are good, exploring the parts that are needed.

The five adopter categories are:

Innovatorsventuresome, risk-taking, information seeking, early seeking status and very experimental, enjoy the degree of early challenge or even uncertainty involved.

Early adopters– Often respected opinion leaders within their social groups, seen often as role models for others.

Early majority – more deliberate before adopting new ideas; interact frequently with peers and trendsetters. They like to merely stay ahead within the curve from that more informed decision-making.

Late majority – Tend to be sceptical, cautious to adopt but ‘feel’ pressure of peers to adopt, tend to need intervention strategies to overcome barriers and see their ‘needs’ resolved by the innovation

Laggards – Traditional , last in the social system, often they pay little attention to opinions of others, they have more a clear point of reference in the past to overcome, are often suspicious of new innovations and their decision process is often lengthy.


Then we have the decision process or stages of adoption:

Awareness and Knowledge refers to a customer’s acknowledgement of the presence or existence of the new innovation and where they form a general perception of what it might entail and is often driven by the intersection of need recognition through marketing communications. This is the point of being inspired to find out more.

Persuasion and Interest – this occurs when a consumer processes the available information associated with the innovation and considers the product or services appeal on this. This positive or negative attitude tends to be based on the five characteristics mentioned above. Here the consumer actively seeks out information and details.

Decision and Assessment – Having considered the persuasion factors the consumer will come to a decision about whether to adopt or reject the innovation. Their activity in seeking out advice, data gathering, comparing or making different assessments happen clearly here. They consider the switching costs and weighing the advantages up. This is the hardest stage to understand.

Implementation and Exploration – These are the series of activities to put the innovation to use. The consumer employs the innovation to a varying learning degree. The usefulness is determined and they may search for further information about it.

Confirmation and Adoption– is mostly concerned with post-adoption behaviour exhibited by the adopter, reinforced by the innovations actual delivery against the relative advantage ‘claims,’ its complexity and compatibility on their understandings. The individual finalizes their decision to continue using it or searches for extending its use to its full potential.

So in summary for this opening post:

Diffusion is the manner in which innovation spreads. It is the degree of how we facilitate, accelerate, and sustain it.

There are constant difficulties of exploiting these different theories within organizations, the questions are where to place the emphasis and the means of communicating these. The process is contingent upon the structural, cultural and size and scope considerations.

You have to watch for that constantly changing the implementation requirements and lack of sufficient resources or application, as they considerable constrain the innovation outcomes and often you don’t spot these until it is too late

The execution or commercialization stage of any new innovation often fails to address the theories offered by Rogers adequately enough, then organizations often suffer poor diffusion and adoption rates, unaware of the considerable efforts this stage of understanding diffusion and adoption needs to address.

The second part of this post will deal with….

My second post in this diffusion and adoption discussion will deal with managing within a far more fluid set of conditions than we seen to be facing than previously. The combination of technology, social media and the internet gained a ‘closer’ relationship with final consumers encouraging engagement and feedback has introduced a far more dynamic environment.

Innovation adoption or rejection is getting riskier, far more complex and we need to bridge the learning gaps far better and smarter. Are Roger’s theories still relevant or even more so today and in the future?

Then the third post provides different examples of diffusion and adoption and offers a starters list of why diffusion can often fail to occur.

Publishing note:  This blog post was originally written on behalf of Hype and with their permission I have republished it on my own site. I recommend you should visit the Hype blog site where they have a range of contributors writing about a wide ranging mix of ideas and thoughts around innovation, its well worth the visit.


3 thoughts on “Exploring Diffusion and Adoption for Innovation – Part 1

  1. Pingback: Exploring Diffusion and Adoption of Innovation – Part 2 | Paul4innovating's Blog

  2. Pingback: Exploring Diffusion and Adoption for Innovation – Part 3 | Paul4innovating's Blog

  3. Pingback: Diffusion and Adoption - Colabria

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