Review: What is Diffusion?
In the introduction to the topic of diffusion here and here, I mentioned that Diffusion of Innovations, a study of innovation, sociology and communication written over fifty years ago is still relevant in our present time. You might be thinking, how could a business study (outside of historical economics) still be relevant today? The reason is that the core study is one of sociology and human interaction regarding the spreading of ideas. This is why I consider it to be still valuable in our present time: cultures evolve and technologies change, but human nature does not. In this post I would like to begin the exploration of the application and takeaways of the principle of diffusion here and now in the social era of business and society.
Influences that Lead to Adoption of an Idea
Diffusion is about adoption and acceptance of something new, “getting an idea adopted, in spite of disadvantages” (Rogers, 1995). The author cites historical examples from developing countries where an individual’s perception relates to the overall context of their social setting, or what we might call a social network. Adoption of an idea is not entirely unlike economics, where social scientific observations (market behavior) continuously surface and at times seem to eclipse the measurable and mathematical side of the discipline. In short, diffusion is about communication, and the special subset of diffusion/communication is the “newness of an idea.”
Eventually, communication reduces uncertainty though the social network – and this network functions as the change agent process. So in the workplace, are we actually becoming more adaptive or just accepting change that is foisted on us along with an overwhelming increase in communication? I think in many respects we are more adaptive as a culture, but anyone involved in management knows the need for change management is still a very significant challenge for leaders. And how often do we settle for an inferior work product (work or service product) due to the effective or ineffective diffusion of one idea over against the other? I realize I am not citing specific examples but I think the principles can be adapted to almost any set of circumstances because as cited earlier technology and mechanisms change, but human nature does not.
Pulling it Together for Business
Not surprisingly, research leading to new solutions may result in something inherently new, or just an enhancement, reorganization or expansion of what already exists. But the upshot is how to translate that knowledge into practical, profitable or effective business ventures and practices. This finds its way back to the topic of knowledge and the dissemination of information both within a network (team), and throughout an organization (larger network). This is where effective leadership must lead, communicate, inspire and cite clear expectations that will move things forward. This is not only a lot easier said than done, it is an entirely additional topic for discussion.
Heany, D. F. (1983). Degree of Product Innovation, The Role of Core Competencies in the Corporation. In M. R. Millson & D. Wilemon (Eds). The Strategy of Managing Innovation and Technology (first edition, pp. 292 – 306). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall
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