Putting Things Together

Thanks to my dear friends Laura, Emily, George, and Ann, I think I’m starting to see how the pieces of the puzzle fit together. I’d also like to give thanks friends who contributed to Facebook group discussions about yesterday’s post … but if you’re not a member of those groups, you may not be able to see their contributions.

 Here’s the key insight – and I guess it was right there in front of me in the information about diffusion of innovations! Each of the five potential groups of adopters (or non-adopters) of an innovation “speaks a different language” and is motivated by a different set of concerns; that’s why there are different groups. So, to help an innovation “cross the chasm” from one group to another, it’s important to understand how each group feels about relative advantage, compatibility, complexity/simplicity, trialability, and observability.

Obviously the best way to find out is to ask. The exact pattern of concerns will be different for each person, of course.

But in general, it seems that innovators and early adopters are more concerned with relative advantage and compatibility. If a “new thing” seems to work better than the “old thing,” innovators have probably already gone out and started trying it. Early adopters are also concerned with compatibility; they’ll jump on board if the “new thing” works better than the “old thing” and is a good fit with the way they like to operate, but they’ll resist if the “new thing” requires too much of a change in their work style. The early majority is also concerned with complexity. Yes, it’s great that the “new thing” works better than the “old thing,” and yes, it’s wonderful that it doesn’t require changing everything about what you do. But what if it breaks? Or what if it stops being available? Early majority members want answers to questions like these before they’re willing to try the new thing … and trialability is certainly key for them. If the “new thing” doesn’t work reliably, how easy will it be to go back to the old, reliable, tried-and-true methods?

As for the late majority and the laggards, it’s probably obvious what they want and need. It’s also irrelevant if the early majority doesn’t embrace the innovation. And, so often, the early majority doesn’t … because the innovators and early adopters don’t realize that the early majority is motivated by a whole different set of core values. That’s the “chasm” that Geoffrey Moore refers to.

Emily reminded me of another great model, from Peter Gloor’s recent book Coolfarming. It’s all about the transition from innovators (which Gloor calls a Collaborative Innovation Network) to early adopters (Collaborative Learning Network) to early majority (Collaborative Interest Network).

So what are the lessons for us innovators and early adopters in the field of education?

First, we need to be sensitive to our audience. Early majority members already have a sense that “it” is better than “the old thing.” But they want to know that “it” will work and, if it doesn’t, that “it” can be abandoned without creating a disaster. Talking endlessly about how “it” is better, or about how “it” isn’t that hard to do, won’t win over the early majority.

So when innovators and early adopters do speak, we need to make sure to address the audience’s concerns, not our concerns. And we need to make sure that our message is getting across.

Where do you see yourself on the spectrum from innovator to laggard? And what do you think of this notion of different primary motivators for each group? More to the point, how will this change the ways you interact with people over the next few days?

quid respondētis, amīcī?

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Published in: on August 9, 2012 at 12:44 pm  Comments (8)  

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  1. This is so interesting, Justin! But here’s a question – just who is the “we”…? I’m really not convinced that I even have a role to play in the discussion at my school – because I speak the wrong language and don’t share the same motivations as my colleagues, I seem to make things WORSE, not better, with my contributions. So while I find this very useful to read and ponder, the people who really matter are the administrators and other faculty leaders at my school. I’m not part of the “we” that matters. I matter to my students, but at the institutional level I suspect I am more of a liability than anything else. Curious how others feel about this.

  2. P.S. I got a prompt to log-in to leave this comment – so maybe that is what happened yesterday; my cookie must have been almost stale or something, ha ha. 🙂

    • Yuck! Stale cookies! Glad you have a fresh batch 🙂

      Thinking about the “we,” I realize that you’re quite right to ask for a definition. I think I had in mind “people who want to make changes of various kinds in education, and who want our innovations to spread.” It’s very easy – all too easy, in fact – to assume that “everybody” secretly agrees or should agree with “us,” or that everybody ought to think the way “we” do.

      But in fact innovators and early adopters are a very small percentage of the population in any field.

      And if you’re not in a position where you can influence the conversation in a positive direction, it’s certainly better to say nothing than to say something that makes things worse.

      • Luckily, time spent communicating with students is VERY well spent. 🙂

  3. I’m kind of with Laura, in that people seem bemused by my goals, but if I don’t say anything about them, how will I ever know if maybe someone out there shares them? What I have to do is avoid appearing to say: “Your system is rotten, and only I am smart enough to see it. Why don’t you just change it?” That’s obviously not going to be a successful strategy. But just tweaking a bit (adding/subtracting exams, for instance) isn’t going to mend things. I don’t know how to take first steps in effecting a really radical change that would make the whole landscape different, especially as I am not in any kind of position of authority (thank goodness). One thing I’ve done is teach any class where I can get away with it in a different style and then ask people for ideas on how to go further with it. Then they may be intrigued rather than annoyed.

    • Agreed, Ann! I don’t want it to sound like I am being uncommunicative with people… it’s just that I now limit what I say to something short (and enthusiastic of course) and expect that anybody who DOES want to find me, can find me online. I’m very find-able. 🙂

      • Ann and Laura, I’m so glad that you brought up these issues. Not everybody CAN or SHOULD be at the forefront of any given movement. It’s important to know whether you’re called (or in a position) to be vocal or to be quietly persistent. I spent years at quietly persistent myself, and I still remember the view from there quite fondly! 🙂

  4. […] you’ve read my posts from Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday of this week, you know I’ve been thinking a lot about how change happens – and about how […]


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