15 Ways to Promote the Adoption of a New Innovation in Your Learning Organization

How do you promote the adoption of a new innovation in your learning organization? If you’ve seen the term early adopter, then you have been partly introduced to the work of Everett Rogers, author of a classic text that helped to explain how innovation gets adopted in various communities or cultures, The Diffusion of Innovation. This is a text that has been around since 1962. Even though newer models and theories abound, Rogers’ work remains a classic that continues to shape the way we think and talk about technology and innovation adoption. This framework remains a useful resource when thinking about managing change and promoting a promising innovation in your learning organization.

To put it in broader context, Rogers divided adopters into six categories based on the timing of their adoption, their role in a broader adoption, and the extend to which they ever adopt. There are the innovators, early adopters, early majority, late majority, laggards, and the leapfroggers.

Innovators

These are the people who have the resources and risk tolerance needed to create many of the innovations that eventually gain wider adoption. Failure is common and an understood part of their work. They are people who have access to not just the what but the how of the innovations, often tapping into the best and most current research on a given innovation.

Early Adopters

These are thought leaders and people who usually have a pretty high level of respect from many others. They don’t take as many risks as the innovators, are still judicious in what they adopt, but their influential role should not be overlooked.

Early Majority

These individuals do not have the position of thought leadership like the early adopters. They are, however, often connected to the early adopters.

Late Majority

This group typically has no connection with the innovators or early adopters, approaches innovations with a measure of skepticism, and adopts innovations a little later than the average person. They also have limited to my thought leadership around the innovation.

Laggards

As the name would suggest, these are the last people to adopt an innovation. They are not very connected to people in the other groups, are champions for tradition and the status quo, and they usually have little to no influence on others when it comes to adoption.

Leapfroggers

These are the people who hold out on innovations often through several iterations, but eventually do adopt it.

About the Six Categories

Notice the relationship between the different adopting groups. The innovators will not directly influence the laggards. That is because laggards tend to interact with other laggards and the late majority. So, you typically get to the laggards through that next group up the adoption ladder. Innovators influence other innovators and early adopters. Early adopters influence other early adopters and the early majority. You get the idea. This is not a perfect science, and there are many exceptions, but this general concept is important because people tend to be more influenced by those with whom they can relate and share much in common. That means that a compelling case from an innovator is probably not the best way to invite the laggards to consider something new.

15 Ways to Promote the Adoption of a New Innovation

Given all this information, how do you progress toward the adoption of a new innovation? Here are some practical ideas to get you started.

  1. Increased an awareness of the possibilities.

A simple way to do this is through some strategic field trips. Consider identifying innovators and early adopters, and invite them to go with you to another learning organization where the innovation has already been adopted. Whether it is an educational technology, teaching method, or overall school design; people need to be informed about the possibilities. Notice that I suggested starting with innovators and early adopters. Send the others too early in the process and they are likely to come back with a long list of reasons why your organization should not go the same route.

However, as adoption develops, you can strategically identify good places to visit for other adopters as well. Don’t assume that the most extreme is the best. Consider models where a late adopter can meet and learn from how another late adopter in a different organization made the transition and is not a champion for the cause.

2. Nurture shared ownership from key leaders in the organization.

There are certainly instances of grassroots adoptions of innovations, but in most organizations, if the leadership does not own it and value it, you will be fighting resistance every step of the way, or you will just lack the resources to really make it happen. Sometimes this comes down to making a case for the innovation, garnering the financial support to move forward, and having them agree to speak in favor of and even shift priorities to make it happen. Even if it takes months or years, this is usually a very good investment of your time and energy. It is hard to over-emphasize this part of the adoption process. If you are a school leader, then making sure your board is all-in will likely be important. If you are a teacher, make sure you nurture the support from the principal or other key leader. This usually means lots of conversations; listening to their interests, goals and concerns; and helping them to see the benefits and how this innovation will align with and support their other goals.

3. One-on-One Conversations

Take the time to build relationships with others in the organization, and talk to people individually about the ideas and possibilities. You will be amazed at what will come from simply investing the time in this individual chats. I find that chats over coffee or a nice lunch are extremely valuable.

4. Ask People for Help

There is something about helping another person that builds a connection and sense of commitment. Ask for colleagues who are open to help you out as you begin to progress toward the adoption. Maybe they help out with a presentation that you give. Maybe they help create materials or resources. Maybe they help provide candid feedback and input. By inviting them into this work, you are also giving them a chance to test the ideas and build comfort with them. Just make sure that you are asking them to help with something that matters. People don’t like to be patronized or have their time wasted.

5. Pilot and Pilot Some More

The word “pilot” can be your best friend. Identify teachers who would be open to you piloting the innovation in some way in their classroom or amid their work at the learning organization. Invite their opinions and input along the way. This gives them a front row seat to exploring the innovation, providing them wit the time to weigh their concerns with the possibilities and opportunities.

6. Provide Information

Create one-page handouts, a simple and easy web site or blog, offer a lunch-time tutorial or presentation, etc. Find ways to help people get the necessary information to learn more about the innovation. In order to adopt, most people need to get informed, learn about the benefits and drawbacks, have a chance to explore and experiment, etc. Start with providing non-threatening opportunities to dip their toe in the water. Answer common questions. Inform. Also don’t be afraid to persuade. Consider using Howard Gardner’s Seven Levers for Changing Minds or Cialdini’s 6 principles of persuasion.

7. Show and Tell

As some teachers start to adopt, coordinate opportunities for other teachers to visit and see it in action. Remember that the late adopters will not be readily convinced by the innovators. They need to see fellow late majority and/or early majority people doing it for them to be the most open to the innovation.

8. Bring in an Expert

Sometimes it is also helpful to invite some leading experts into the community to show and teach what they know about the innovation. For some in the community, this added expert opinion will offer a little more credibility to the innovation. However, remember that people tend to be most influenced by similar people. So, if the expert is seen as an innovator or disconnected from the real world of their learning organization, they may find it hard to listen and accept such expert input.

9. Simulated Experiences

Many will not try something in a real classroom or context until they’ve had ample time to test it out in a safer and low-risk context. Set some of those up and provide support for people to try it out…look no risk and low barriers to entry.

10. Celebrate Successes

As new people adopt and have good experiences, capture those and share them with others in the community. Celebrate what is going well.

11. Debrief Setbacks

Things will not always go well. Innovations can have glitches and exceptions that become fuel for resistance. Don’t let those spread in the community. Find out what happened, why it happened, and how to fix or prevent it the next time. Help people through the setbacks and turn them into more success stories. There share those stories.

Some disagree with me on this, but I believe that it builds important credibility for you to be the first to know and highlight the problems, limitations and setbacks of an innovation. Do you really want to be someone who pushes for an innovation that is not good or truly beneficial? Do your homework. Surface the problems. Explore them together, solve them or manage them. If it isn’t a good innovation, be willing to kill it. In the long run, this is better for you and the organization.

12. Devise Team Workshops

Sit and get in-services are of limited value. However, it is completely different if you set up a workshop time and put people in groups (intentionally organized based on your best guess at where they fit as adopters), and have people plan, build and create something related to the innovation. This is a chance for some positive peer support and influence. Think practical and hands-on. Also build mechanisms for people to try and use what they built.

13. The Mandate

At times, this works. If leadership is on board and it is mission critical, sometimes it is time to work with the leadership (or if you are that leadership, do it) to communicate a reasonable but clear goal for the community that we are going to move in a given direction. If you do this, be sure that you are ready to give the time and resources necessary for people to make the transition by a given time. You also need to gauge your community. Some communities will approach such a mandate with bitterness, holding a grudge and waiting for the whole thing to fail. Others respond favorably because there is a measure of trust and the culture has tolerance for some strong central leadership decisions.

13. The Team Scouts

Similar to others, it can work to identify a group of trusted and respected members in the community to review a given innovation and make recommendations on if and how to adopt it. Give them the time and resources for a thorough analysis (classes, readings, connections with experts, visits to and interviews with others who have adopted it, etc.). Make this a dream team and then support their decisions when they report back. At the beginning, provide clear questions and direction for the group, and then work closely with them to help act on what they find and recommend.

14. Build Internal Experts

If you find some innovators and early adopters who want to champion the innovation, invest in them. Provide them with the support and resources to become world-class at it. Then promote their work more broadly: in the local media, at conferences, through various external venues. Celebrate their success and influence within the community. Their thought leadership can be a powerful force. It can also help connect your school’s identity with the innovation.

15. Highlight the Problems

Be careful not to be manipulative with this one, but innovations should be about addressing key problems or taking advantage of promising opportunities. Finding a way to discover, surface and highlight problems that you want to address with the innovation is a great way to build a case for it.

There are countless other elements to the adoption of a new innovation in your learning organization, but these 15 are a helpful starting point. Don’t treat them like a recipe. Rather, see them as suggestions. Consider getting more familiar with the diffusion of innovation research, as it is a helpful tool for understanding the dynamics at work when an innovation is introduced to a community. From there, you can use these fifteen and other ideas to work toward a culture that embraces something new for the benefit of the learners.

A Distinguishing Trait in High-Performance Leaders

There are likely many traits of high-performance leaders. Over the past several months, I’ve met with, visited and/or had conversations with over a dozen leaders of learning organizations or high-performance units in education companies and schools. Among those that seem to be doing some of the most innovative and high-impact work, I noticed a single consistent trait.

It is a trait that is especially suitable for learning organizations. The research supports the value of this trait in a variety of contexts. You will find it in literature about peak performance. You will find it in the leadership books. It is in the literature about quality in every industry and sector. You will even find it in the literature about how to be an effective learner.

It is easy to identify when you see you. In fact, many great leaders draw your attention to it. They can’t help but do it because it is at the core of what helps them achieve great results. It shows up in how they think and talk, and you can almost instantly tell if it is genuine.

Leaders who do not have a large measure of this trait are equally noticeable. This too shows up in their words, how they think and their actions. You can see it in how they treat people who visit or seek to learn from their organizations. It is evident in what they give and seek from people in their organization and those who are observing from the outside.

It can take on different shapes and styles from one leader to the next, but it is always there. The higher performance the organization, the more this trait shines in these special types of leaders. The more these leaders wear it like a badge of honor. Sometimes it is accompanied with an impressive measure of humility, but it always seems to be paired with confidence as well. In fact, it seems to require confidence to wield this trait.

Yet, knowledge about the trait is not enough. It is something that a person has to own and embody. It can’t be faked, but it can be learned. For it to make a difference, you have to practice it persistently and relentlessly, even in situations when it is uncommonly difficult.

At the same time, I’ve also noticed that the trait is contextual. There are some people who seem to embody it in all parts of their lives (at least the parts visible to us). Still others seem to only embody it in one aspect of their life, seeming not ready or committed to it in another part.

The trait that I’m talking about is craving feedback. When you meet a high-performance leader, you can be sure that this person is constantly trying to figure out what is working, what is not, how to improve, how to take things to the next level. They want to know their organizational blind spots and address them. They want to understand things from multiple angles and perspectives, always looking for a useful or important insight.

People who are not ready for this level of leadership are sometimes more interested in paying attention to what is going well, drawing other people’s attention to those things. They might even be included to overlooking or sometimes even try to hide what is not going as well. They are interested in image over substance. We can all be tempted to to that in different parts of our lives, but it isn’t going to help us achieve the greatest results. We might get some recognition, maybe even promotions or a great job out of it. However, if you are one of those people who wants to know deep down inside what you did mattered, that it neared world-class, then that takes becoming a person who craves feedback.

It can be painful to look at sub-par or mediocre performance. Yet, the high-performance leader understands that the only way to really work though that pain is to face it and remedy the cause. The cause is not that it is seen but that it exists. As such, if you want to reach the next level, then you need to know and do something about the aspects of the organization that are not meeting and exceeding your goals and standards.

Scan people the insights from leaders across sectors and you will see this show up consistently. Winston Churchill once explained, “Criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary. It fulfils the same function as pain in the human body. It calls attention to an unhealthy state of things.” Elon Musk noted, “I think it’s very important to have a feedback loop, where you’re constantly thinking about what you’ve done and how you could be doing it better.” Ken Blanchard said it succinctly when he wrote, “Feedback is the breakfast of champions.”

Do you want to grow as a person, leader and organization? Seek honest, candid, raw, feedback. Create ways to generate it from different people and perspectives. Be confident in your mission, vision, values and goals; but crave feedback as well. Value each of them so much that you want to know as much as you can about them. Then use that feedback to grow and improve. That is a distinguishing trait of high-performance leaders.

Obama’s Charge to Slay the Testing Dragon

It looks like we have the beginning of a national conversation about cutting back on testing, enhancing learning, and maybe once and for all slaying the testing dragon in American education (or at least taming it, which is probably more difficult). Some of you might remember a recent article that I wrote about ten critical issues in education (and I am working on expanding that into a book). If so, you might also remember that number two on that list was testing and assessment. As I wrote in that article, “Whenever people start to build learning organizations and experiences around tests instead of designing tests to serve and amplify the organization’s mission, vision, and values; we have a problem.” For the first time in a long time (at least in such an explicit way), we got to hear support for the same general idea from the Whitehouse. On Saturday, October 24, 2015, President Obama shared the following message in a short (less than two minutes) video.

In President Obama’s concluding remarks, he highlighted a three-point guide for testing in schools.

1. Our kids should only take tests that are worth taking.

2. Tests should enhance teaching and learning.

3. Tests should give an an all-around look at how our students and schools are doing.

Then he finished with a couple of noteworthy quotes.

  • “Because learning is about so much more than filling in the right bubble.”
  • “…to make sure that our kids are enjoying learning.”

This is a fine start to a national conversation. And while these three principles are a solid starting point, we have much work to do beyond them. There is ample room for people to look at these three principles and contend that what is happening across the country is already complying with the President’s charge. While many of us would challenge such a claim (and I think the evidence would be on our side), it isn’t clear for all. For too many people, standardized testing and traditional testing in general are synonymous with high academic standards, academic rigor, and challenging students to high levels of performance. As such, if we want to address the testing problem, it is going to require a design revolution as much or more than efforts on the policy level.

As far as I am concerned, the problem with testing in schools is caused by a lack of creativity and depth about how to design rich, engaging, high-impact cultures of learning…that and pressures around demonstrating progress, even if in less holistic ways, to policymaker and external agencies. As I’ve written many times before, a culture of earning still dominates in the American school system. Teachers sometimes still lean on tests and quizzes for classroom management. Student questions are often focused on what they need to know for the test instead of what they want or need to learn for life or personal interest. People looking at schools from the outside are too often focused on test scores as a sign that something good is happening. As such, a design revolution focused on school culture is a key to this shift, and that has to start with examining our core convictions about the purpose of school…then building from there.

This statement from President Obama comes amid large-scale moves toward more testing in schools across the country. This happened to demonstrate adequate yearly progress, to show whether students are meeting state standards and/or the Common Core State Standards, and because big data is a growing part of the education landscape and traditional multiple choice tests are easier for the quantitatively minded to analyze across large populations. Such testing is not used because the research shows us how impactful they are for creating high-impact and engaging learning communities. They don’t exist to help individual students as much as to help people analyze large pools of students or to speed the grading process for teachers.

Yet, even before No Child Left Behind, CCSS and big data, we had a problem with such tests in our schools. For a long time, teachers have turned to T/F, multiple choice and matching tests to keep students “motivated” and compliant, but even more so to make grading easier and bearable for the teachers. We can learn plenty about student progress through detailed rubrics, rich narrative feedback, oral assessments, devising a triangulation of feedback from various sources, through real-time coaching, and amid immersive and authentic projects. We can do all of that without touching a single traditional test. In addition, we know that these other forms of feedback and assessment generate more authentic and engaging learning environments.

In addition to all these strategies, we are on the verge of a learning analytics revolution, where computer-augmented learning experiences track student learning, behaviors and progress in real-time. Formative and summative assessments merge as one in this new space, giving the student valuable instant feedback, giving teachers and others insight on student progress, and allowing others to analyze these data across large populations…all without testing. There is no need for traditional tests in this new world of learning.

I can’t think of a better way to end this article than with a substantively (two key words) revised quote from Betrand Russell. “It is possible that [education] is on the threshold of a golden age; but, if so, it will be necessary first to slay the dragon that guards the door, and this dragon is [testing]. Well, I can think of a few others dragons in the way, but testing is a good start.

10 Reasons Why Concordia Publishing House is a Model for Innovation in the Publishing Industry

For the last couple of years I’ve had the privilege of serving as a consultant for Concordia Publishing House. I’ve worked with them on a variety of projects ranging from the exploration of future models for publishing to emerging trends in education staff development, networking with stakeholders in the Lutheran education system to conducting research on the use of mobile devices and one-to-one programs. Most recently, I’ve enjoyed helping edit a collection of essays about the Pedagogy of Teaching the Faith. During this time, I’ve worked with editorial staff, executive leadership and even had a chance to give a presentation to the CPH board. Amid these two years, my admiration for this publishing house as a promising model for innovation has consistently grown. Here are the ten reasons why.

1. Mission-minded Innovation

Concordia Publishing House is the publishing house of the The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. As such, CPH has a clear mission and commitment to the teachings of this church body. CPH’s commitment to innovation is not just about the pursuit of the greatest revenue streams. It is a strong commitment to innovation as a servant to the greater mission of the organization and the church body that it serves. This is a model for innovation throughout the non-profit world.

2. A Balance Between Sustaining and Disruptive Innovations

CPH exists to serve a target population. While the company has the intellectual capital to far exceed what its stakeholders are ready to use, it does an exemplary job balancing two types of innovation. Sustaining innovations are those innovations that are incremental in nature; largely improvements, enhancements, or iterations of past products and services. There are countless examples of such innovations at CPH, because they approach innovation with an important measure of humility given their target audience.

At the same time, there are some promising disruptive innovations in the works as well. A disruptive innovation is that which creates a new market or potentially disrupts a past technology with something new and eventually improved. One such CPH innovation is Church 360, a “complete suite of web-based church management software.” This is an example of a high-value product that has the potential to transform the management of church information, financials and the like. It is a technology that shifts work that was previously disconnected or only managed on a single computer in a church office to something that allows collaboration and shared work across staff and volunteers regardless of one’s physical location.

3. Collaborative Innovation

A simple but significant project was launched at CPH in the last couple of years. It is an internal innovation site, a place where anyone serving any role in the organization can view and share innovative ideas. While there are certainly great ideas that come from executive leadership, this simple addition does three things. One, it honors the ideas and creativity of every person in the company. Two, it capitalizes upon great ideas wherever they might emerge in the organization. Three, it provides a forum where people learn from and build upon the ideas of each other.

4. Innovation Space

Design matters and it has an impact on the way people think and interact with one another. As such, I’ve enjoyed seeing the newer spaces designed at Concordia Publishing House. Their Innovation Center is a wonderfully creative space for people to collaborate, the type of space that you might find in some of the powerhouse companies of Silicon Valley. The same is true for some of the newer offices and collaborative areas where much of the research and development (called emerging products) happens. This awareness of the importance of re-imagining physical space to encourage more collaboration and creativity is abundant among leadership at CPH.

5. Customer-Centered Innovation

I had a wonderful chat with Mark Knickelbein, Associate Editor and Developer of Worship Arts Resources at CPH; and he explained one innovation that they implemented for their large music selection. Mark explained that, in the past, customers liked physically browsing through music via an in-store experience. While not having an in-store option for every person, the team has made significant headway in creating somethings as good or better. They have created a solution that may be one of the only in the music sales industry. In the words of Mark:

We now have an “interactive CD” included with our catalog, which, when used on a computer will show and play all of our new music, with the music synced to the pages (turn the page and the music jumps there; or watch the pages turn with the music). I’m not aware of any other music publisher doing this. Online, we have YouTube videos that also show the music as it plays a recording. We’ve also been going through our 3000 titles and improving our data for the web, including descriptions, contents, look-insides, and recordings.

Down the road, Mark envisions a Tivo-like experience that could use data to determine what people want, sometimes before they even realize that they would like it. Theses sorts of data-driven innovations have gained traction everywhere from Amazon to Netflix. Perhaps we will soon see something similar for church music as well.

6. Innovation School

They don’t call it that, but I do. If an organization is truly committed to innovation, it will show up in the practices, resource allocation and shared vocabulary of the organization. As such, there is an internal commitment to providing workshop and training opportunities that help staff embrace the power of creativity and innovation in their work.

7. Rapid Innovation

The traditional publishing process is time-intensive. There are many steps, many people, and hundreds, even thousands of hours devoted to some of these projects. Such projects can also be expensive. Even given this fact, CPH is ready to move quickly when they have a great idea. They can take something from idea to market in quick order, rallying different teams together to make such things happen.

8. Focused but Diversified Products & Innovations

Concordia Publishing House is more than a producer of books and paper publications. It provides quality print publications, electronic and interactive products, software and cloud-based products, music, magazines, church bulletin printing services, and it essentially a one-stop-shop for core church-related products. While this looks like an overwhelming variety of products and services, they are all held together by a core mission and focus on the needs of their target audience. This sort of diversified portfolio gives CPH the stability to be able to innovative and even meet needs of smaller audiences that, in other settings, could not be served.

9. Listening, Learning and Responding

Out of all the organizations that I’ve worked with, I’ve rarely seen one that is so committed to eliciting feedback, listening to, and learning from their customers. They are truly committed to responding to what they hear and learn by refining current products and creating new ones. Sometimes it can be challenging to meet the needs of customers with different priorities, but I’ve come to have immense respect for how CPH navigates such differences, remaining faithful to its mission and loyal to its customers.

10. Visionary and Tough-Minded Leadership

The executive leadership at CPH is world-class, and they are “all in” when it comes to embracing mission-minded innovation. Dr. Bruce Kintz, President and CEO of CPH completed his doctoral dissertation on innovation in the industry, focusing on electronic curricula. He is laser-focused on the mission of CPH and leveraging innovation in the service of that mission. The same thing is true for Jonathan Schultz, Vice President and Corporate Council; Reverend Paul McCain, Publisher and Executive Director of Editorial; and Karen Capps, Executive Director of Production Control and Quality Systems. There are many other top-notch leaders in the organization. These are just the ones with whom I’ve had the pleasure of working more closely.

I’ve had the honor of working with and learning from quite a few world-class organizations over the years, and there is always a tough-mindedness about the leadership in these organizations. They have an intensity, a discipline, and a focus that allows them to achieve the level of quality and excellence that they do. That is what I see in the CPH leadership. Others have seen it too, as evidenced by a list of awards: the 2011 Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award, 2009 Missouri Quality Award, and a 2008-2012 Best Christian Workplace winner.

Put these ten traits together and you have an impressive organization; one that is well-positioned to meet the current needs of its core customers, help those customers imagine promising opportunities for the future, and even to do some groundbreaking research and development that will prepare them for the innovations of 5-10 years from now.