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Posted by on May 27, 2014

Assuring Successful Adoption of Business Innovations

It’s common practice for the government and commercial entities to periodically modify their organization’s reporting structure, business processes, and day-to-day procedures to adapt to the changing needs of the agency or company.  And … it’s human nature to be resistant or hesitant to the accepting the changes, or confused by the new ideas that result from those actions.  

Senior leadership tends to introduce the “new ways of doing things” through policies, memos, all-hands meetings, and the all too frequent “word of mouth.”  Although these work to a greater or lesser extent, depending on the “message” or the level of effort in planning the changes, there are some fundamental tips that relate to basic human behavior which work with most people regardless of their nationality, language, culture, education, or location.  

I would like to share five easy-to-remember building blocks that have been proven to lead to successful adoption of new ideas and innovations. The foundation for these building blocks were derived from an analysis of over 1,100 sociological studies by Everett M. Rogers and Floyd Shoemaker in their ground breaking book, Communication of Innovations, 1972.

The authors define innovations as “an idea, product, or practice as being perceived as new by an individual.” The key here is that when individuals, not the organizations, adopt new ways of thinking or acting, the resulting changes are more readily accepted.  To verify that this definition is true, Rogers and Shoemaker explored the characteristics of innovators, the rate of adoption of ideas by a diverse population of people, and the decision-making processes in 103 different sociological settings. They also compared what they found with similar conclusions in more than 1,500 publications dealing with the communication of innovations.

Examples of the new ideas they studied ranged from introducing farm tractors in Turkey, to family planning techniques among Hindu housewives, to modern math among Pennsylvania teachers and ultimately the introduction of new medicines worldwide. You may have heard of the terms “innovators,” “early adopters” and “late adopters”, which are commonly used in the press and trade journals. Those terms and concepts are from these authors.

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Types of Innovation Adopters

(Adapted from Rogers and Shoemaker, Innovation Curve in Communication of Innovations, 1972) 

The Five Building Blocks for Successful Innovations

There are the five building blocks that you may want to include in your planning for new “innovations.”

  • Relative Advantage:   “The degree to which an individual perceives that a new idea or product is better than the one it supersedes.” The relative advantage of an innovation is positively related to its rate of adoption.
  • Compatibility:  “The degree to which an idea or innovation is consistent with existing values, past experiences and the needs of the person considering the adoption of the innovation.” The compatibility of an innovation is positively related to its rate of adoption.
  • Complexity:   “The degree to which an innovation is perceived as difficult to use or understand.  The ease with which an individual can acquire capabilities in the use of the innovation is measurable on a simplicity — complexity continuum.”  The complexity of an innovation is negatively related to its rate of adoption.
  • Trialability:  “The degree to which an innovation may be experimented or “tried out” on a limited basis; without committing the individual to a permanent adoption.”  The trialability of an innovation is positively related to its rate of adoption.
  • ObservabilityThe degree to which the results of an innovation can be measured, observed and shared with other individuals.”  The observability of an innovation is positively related to its rate of adoption.

It all comes down to effective and timely communication.  As Peter Drucker advises us:

It’s the recipient who communicates.  The so-called communicator, the person who emits the communication, does not communicate.  He utters.  Unless there is someone who hears, there is no communication.  There is only noise!  

                                                       – Peter Drucker, Management: Tasks, Practices, Responsibilities, 1974

In implementing what you learn from Management Concepts courses or publications, please realize that having the factual and procedural knowledge is only the beginning of making a difference in your organizations.  

The Bottom Line

In keeping with the intent of these building blocks, making sure that the innovations you implement are relatively advantageous to your staff, compatible with your work environment, not perceived as being complex to your knowledgeable professionals, allow a try-before-you-fully-implement opportunity, and facilitate communication among potential users, will enhance your overall successes.

2 Comments

  1. I agree that Communication Innovation was a ground breaking book in 1972. In 2014, the ideas that they revolutionized are now common place and intuitive…There’s no meat here just sizzle.
    I would assume you are a late adopter…

    • Thanks Bob: I appreciate your thoughts. Actually, I tend not to consider the dates of ideas as indicative of the value of them. Regardless of rapidly-changing technologies and society’s transition to different norms, that doesn’t automatically negate the worth of previously-held ideas nor significantly alter the basic foundations of human behavior. To the contrary, the five guiding principles that I presented are, unfortunaely, not common place nor inutitive – although they have made it into the mainstream of several other books and many articles. Lack of awaresness of these five human behavioral attributes are clearly evidenced by the dot.com bust; the many failures of small and large businesses that were founded on the “build it and they shall come” rather than the “build it so they shall come” approach, or the lack of “research” by companies to measure the perceptions of potential recipients of their new products or ideas.
      I’m not a late adopter. My 1981 doctoral disseration was grounded in Rogers’ and Shoemaker’s “ideas.” I’ve actively studied and written about them since the early 1980’s. My work been replicated eight times over the past 31 years – mostly from 2004 to the present – in U.S. military, higher education, commercial, non-profit, public school system, and international settings. The findings were comparable in all of the studies, regardles of the location, population or date of the research. In 2013, a study was conducted which explored how to enhance the adoption and successes of asynchronous distance learning by teachers and students.
      So, I feel that we have not yet outgrown being reminded of how humans think and act when making choices. I welcome your thoughts, as well and thank you for your perspective.

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