by Dave Travis
Why do some ideas get adopted more quickly or broadly than others across a social system? Questions like that are constantly in the mind of leaders in their role as change agents. As an organization, Leadership Network draws heavily from three foundational thinkers: Peter Drucker, Lyle Schaller and Everett Rogers. The latter, who died in 2004, wrote Diffusion of Innovations, a heady but influential piece of scholarship. Below are his ideas (from pages 15-16) that help explain the different rates that new ideas get spread through a social ecosystem:
1. Relative Advantage is the degree that the innovation is perceived to be better than the idea it supersedes. It’s advantages are clearly seen. The new idea is easier, more efficient, more relevant to the current situation, and gives more satisfaction. People respond, “Hey this is a lot easier than the old way” or “This is a quicker way to do it.” Goal: How can we present the idea as better than our current approach?
2. Compatibility is the degree to which the innovation is consistent with existing values, past experiences, and/or the needs of those impacted. For example, the multisite approach is a much harder sell to churches that put a high value on having only one worship service and emphasizing the importance of “keeping the church together.” It works better in churches that already have multiple services and/or multiple venues. Goal: How isthe idea an extension of what we stand for and have done in the past?
3. Complexity affirms that new simple-to-understand ideas are easier to adopt than ones that are hard to understand. In other words, to work well, the idea has to seem simple. If you have to explain the idea too much, it is much harder for others to adapt. Goal: How can we present the idea compellingly in one sentence, or even in a slogan?
4. Triability is the most overlooked factor in most thinking about innovation. It addresses the degree to which the idea can be experimented with on a limited basis. Ideas are adopted more readily when they can be tried in small ways first. This proves the idea’s worth to various opinion leaders. Goal: How can we explore the idea on a smaller or testable scale?
5. Observability is the “get it, see it, do it” factor. It’s the degree to which others can readily visualize the value of the idea or innovation. This happens often when you attend a “teaching church” conference where you observe the idea at work. It prompts you to decide, “We could do this too!” Goal: Can we show a model of somewhere where the idea is already working successfully?
In short, before you present an innovative new idea, be aware that it will have a higher likelihood of acceptance and adoption if it is perceived as a better way, clearly fits into your existing beliefs and values, is simple to explain, can first be tried by a small team, and can be observed in other churches.
Too many new ideas fail because they seem to be asking the congregation to throw everything out and start over. Everett Rogers helps us understand the optimal contexts for introducing a change.
See also Working with Opinion Leaders and Innovators.
Everett M. Rogers