Adoption of An Idea

By Steve Zuieback · Posted Sunday, January 12, 2014

Embedding New Ideas Into A Community

I first came across this wonderful model in 1983 when I started volunteering with an emerging movement called Beyond War. The simple purpose of this organization was to stop the proliferation of nuclear weapons across the globe. The organization was responsible for the first ever satellite conference between the Soviet Union and the United States and for creating dialogue between citizens of the Soviet Union and the United States.

Beyond War went from a handful of people in Bay Area to exposure of 7 million people across the planet in about a 3-4 year timeframe. At the core of the work was the Adoption of An Idea model developed by Everett Rogers in his groundbreaking book, Diffusion of Innovation.

Basically the model reflects that within a particular context, people have a different orientation to new ideas. A small percentage  (3-5%) develop the new ideas. These people are called innovators. They are essential to change because they create the innovation, but they are not the group that cause ideas to spread. That group is known as the Early Adopters, and they make up between 9-15% of a population. They are the group that was the focus of Malcolm Gladwell's book the Tipping Point. Due to their credibility, respect and connectivity they are the group that ultimately influences the largest group - the Adopters - to adopt their ideas into an organization, community or whole society. The Early Adopters were the group that was the focus of greatest attention to the Beyond War movement. The idea was to get them involved, and through their credibility and influence, they would bring huge numbers of people to engage in the nonproliferation movement. The two remaining groups are the Late Adoters (9 -15%) and the Laggards which represent a similar percentage to the Innovators (3-5%).

Understanding this core model is key to consultants and leaders in helping guide change efforts in their organizations and communities. One major implication is the value of identifying the Early Adopters. Tim Dalmau and I have developed a simple model for identifying Early Adopters and you can learn more about this approach by clicking here

Another key insight is in understanding the Late Adopter population. This is often a group that on the surface seems to be hesitant or resistant to change. Leaders often spend too much time trying to bring these people on board rather than mobilizing the Early Adopters. The research is fairly clear that the one thing that brings Late Adopters on board is seeing results. When they see such results they often become huge advocates. You cannot convince, cajole or coerce these people, so the simple lesson is to include them, listen to them but don't slow down the implementation hoping to bring them on board.

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