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