Diffusion of Innovation: The Difficulty of a New Idea

Fifty years ago, Everett Rogers wrote a work on business and society that is still relevant to this day.  The work is the well known, Diffusion of Innovations.  While it may be hard to believe that a book from an entirely different era would offer insight in our present time, consider the following summary of Everett’s premise by Les Robinson, “Diffusion of Innovations seeks to explain how innovations are taken up in a population. An innovation is an idea, behavior, or object that is perceived as new by its audience.”  The idea is simple but profound really, and I think this is because innovation is often equated with technology, especially technology as expressed in the last few years that has connected our world in unprecedented fashion.  But innovation can be an idea or an adaptation, where technology is simply the mechanism that enables that vision for the future.

MacchiavelliThere is nothing more difficult to plan, more doubtful of success, nor more dangerous to manage than the creation of a new order of things…Whenever his enemies have the ability to attack the innovator, they do so with the passion of partisans, while the others defend him sluggishly, so that the innovator and his party alike are vulnerable (Machiavelli, The Prince as quoted by Everett Rogers in Diffusion of Innovations).

Simply stated, diffusion of innovation is the successful spread of an idea.  But the challenge, as stated by Rogers is the difficulty associated with such a feat, even with self-obviating benefits,

Many innovations require a lengthy period of many years from the time when they become available to the time when they are widely adopted. Therefore, a common problem for many individuals and organizations is how to speed up the rate of diffusion of an innovation.

I find this particularly interesting given the potential not only of social media, but the social era of business and society that we live in.  I think the potential exists for progress in the areas of government, business and society that simply were not previously possible, where the reduced barrier for the average person to connect was only the beginning, but now particularly the trending of how those connections are part of our sociological makeup as a culture.  The next post will expand on how ideas move forward.  For a general introduction to Rogers, see an excellent post from an educator’s perspective by Dr. Sarah Elaine Eaton, Why some teachers will never love technology, and a terrific overview by Les Robinson, A summary of Diffusion of Innovations.  Be sure and search for number essays by Rogers himself using Google Scholar and similar resources.


Robinson, L. (2009). A summary of Diffusion of Innovations [PDF].  Retrieved from http://www.enablingchange.com.au/Summary_Diffusion_Theory.pdf

Rogers, E. M. (1995). Element of Diffusion. In M. R. Millson & D. Wilemon (Eds). The Strategy of Managing Innovation and Technology (first edition, pp. 182 – 202). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall

Rogers, E. M. (1995). Element of Diffusion. New York, NY: Free Press

Image Source: Library of Congress: http://myloc.gov/Exhibitions/jeffersonslibrary/Reason/ExhibitObjects/MachiavellisPolitics.aspx

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