When presented with an innovative new technology or method, people react differently and adopt with varying levels of haste and enthusiasm.
It was sociologist Everett M. Rogers who proposed that adopters of innovations can be categorized as follows:
- Innovators: 2.5% of adopters will adopt purely on the basis of the innovation itself.
- Early Adopters: 13.5% of adopters will focus on the potential applications of the innovation and will adopt it even if these potential applications are not yet obvious to the majority of adopters.
- Early Majority: 34% of adopters will adopt only after being satisfied that there is practical proof that the innovation can be of use to them.
- Late Majority: Another 34% of adopters will adopt only after being satisfied that there is even more practical proof that the innovation can be of use to them.
- Laggards: 16% of adopters might not actually be adopters. These people are generally sceptical and may not be interested in the innovation despite practical proof that it can be useful to them.
As an aspiring educational leader who every now and then throws out an idea with the intention of it being adopted by those that I serve, I was happy to read of Dr. Rogers’ diffusion of innovations. It seems that it is not just me who finds that their ideas are not necessarily met with the same enthusiasm with which they were imagined.
When looking at the percentages of adopters that Rogers assigns to each category, it becomes obvious that it is not enough to convince the innovators and early adopters that an innovation is worth adopting. If an innovation is to take root in a school for the benefit of our students, it is imperative to get the early and late majority of teachers onboard.
Innovators and early adopters are happy to adopt an innovation based on the innovation itself. These people are intuitive, support revolution, follow their own rules, take risks, are motivated by possible opportunities, and explore what is possible. We need these people in our schools.
The early and late majority of adopters are analytical, support evolution, consult others, manage risks, are motivated by current problems, and pursue what is probable. We need these people in our schools.
Essentially, the early and late majority of adopting teachers need to be convinced that an innovation is actually going to help them do their job better. This is an entirely reasonable stance given the susceptibility of our profession to, for want of a better word, fads.
To cross the gap from innovators and early adopters to the ‘mass market’ of the early and late majority, the proposers of an innovation must build a bridge. The bridge must be built from the innovation itself to the needs of those that are being asked to adopt it. As the innovation travels across the bridge, the focus needs to move from the innovation itself to its applications. As the innovation reaches the early and late majority, it needs to be seen as a current standard of best practice that comes with readily available practical support for those that adopt it. For this to occur, the proposers of an innovation must be comfortable with the fact that an innovation might need to change as it crosses the bridge.
And what about the laggards? Forget about the laggards. But don’t forget that the early and late majority are not laggards. The early and late majority are the key to an innovation taking root in a school and the onus must be on those proposing an innovation to convince them that an innovation is worth pursuing.
*This post was inspired from my learning from Introduction to Innovation Management (Erasmus University Rotterdam)