Diffusion of innovation and social networks

idea rocket

The diffusion of innovation has been very important concept over the decades not just for product marketers but also in the field of new product development, R&D  and understanding social networks.

The statement, “If you want to increase the adoption rate or the public response to a new idea or innovation, it is better that individuals move away from weaker and easy to form ties and relationships” intrigued me. I wanted to explore why ? and so this article.

The scientific definition for diffusion is the process by which “molecules intermingle as a result of their kinetic energy and random motion”.

The word ‘diffusion’ is used more in conjunction with “Molecular Diffusion” but here we are talking about diffusion of a different order. It is the “Diffusion of Innovation”.  This theory was first popularized by sociologist Everett M Rogers.

The basic premise is that for new ideas to get adopted, it takes time even it has obvious advantages. Usually, there is a gestation period from the time they are introduced into the market, to the time they are widely adopted by the public be it cars, refrigerators or industrial pumps.

The challenges faced by many businesses is how to speed up this diffusion rate. The challenges are similar in all market driven innovation campaigns.

Can social networks and social media help speed up this rate of diffusion?

The answer is yes.

I stumbled upon this excellent book “Diffusion of Innovation” by Everett M Rogers, which talks at length about diffusion of innovation and its various influences. I will be referring some content from it. A definition of innovation from the book.

Diffusion is defined as a process by which innovation is communicated over time to general public belonging to a social network or a social structure.

Here communication over time means essentially adoption. Diffusion messages are about “newness” in an idea. The newness creates excitement and makes the messages travel further. The newness is what gives the diffusion a special character.

Social change occurs when diffusion happens.

The insights for social change is that, people do not change to adopt to innovations. Innovations change themselves as they go through multiple iterations to fit into the needs and behavior of the people.

The rate of spread of such innovations is more pronounced when there are conversations happening about the new idea among people, peers and within a social network.

Variables that determine the diffusion of innovation

Rate of adoption is the speed at which the innovation is adopted. There are many factors which affect that rate. The table below shows the important attributes.

Various attributes for Diffusion of Innovation

Diffusion of innovation
Various attributes for Diffusion of Innovation

Our focus in this article would be more on the effects of communication and the social system on the rate of adoption for the diffusion of innovation.

For various adopter categories and for  its detailed explanation. Please refer the below video.

Apart from the five perceived attributes, the communication system used has an effect. It is a known fact these days that rate of adoption is quite high if we use social networks like Facebook or Twitter for diffusion rather than interpersonal networks.

The social norms and sharing structure also affect the rate of adoption.  When opinion leaders or opinion organizations adopt, which normally happens anywhere between 3% and 16% of the adoption , it has a greater impact and speeds up the response rate. Further increase in response and adoption happens when there is ‘critical mass’ that swings positively and moves the diffusion process forward.

We need to understand that

The main idea that drives the diffusion process is the interpersonal communication with peers about an innovation.

The above statement holds good and we will explain that through an example. The decision whether or not to adopt to an innovation depends on the interactions an individual has with others. There is considerable amount of subjectivity involved as the information flows through interpersonal networks.

To understand the diffusion process we need to understand the nature of the social networks.

Watch this video below which explains the Diffusion of Innovation in an animated form.

Examples – Diffusion of innovation

The example below talks about the use and spread of the medical drug ‘Tetracycline’ in 1966 among doctors. Even though the example is an old one, it is still relevant today.

Tetracycline is a useful antibiotic which is used by doctors in their daily practice. The researchers, James. S. Coleman and his team used various network indicators to assess the diffusion process which were far more important than individual characteristics of age and socio- economic states.

Useful Note: James . S . Coleman is an American sociologist. He was a pioneer in Mathematical sociology and strongly influenced the American goverment in its education policy through his brilliant yet controversial reports.

The findings were that the doctors with more network links were found to be far innovative in adopting the new idea than their colleagues who were isolated and not connected.

With only just two months after the introduction of the new medicine, 15% of the doctors adopted it and in 4 months it reached 50 %.

The degree of network inter-connectedness was an important predictor in the rate of adoption. These doctors had better communication channels and more income. The following S curve shows the rate of adoption of the medical drug.

The S shaped diffusion curve is usually created by the rate of adoption by the members of a social network.

S curve and Diffusion of Innovation

S curve and Diffusion of Innovation
S curve and Diffusion of Innovation

The rate of adoption forthe interconnected doctors immediately shot high whereas for the isolated doctors it took a straight line. The figure shows the S curve for the interconnected doctors. The S curve did not happen for the isolated doctors who did not have peer level contacts.

The presence of peer level contacts for the interconnected doctors allowed for subjective evaluations of the innovation speeding up the rate of adoption.

I couldn’t stop but to start writing about the diffusion of QWERTY keyboard and the non-diffusion of the Dvorak keyboard when I read about it a couple of weeks back. I was compelled to write this and wanted to explain how interestingly the diffusion of innovation works with some examples.

Let me revisit a bit on what “Diffusion” means within the context of innovation. Diffusion means social change. As quoted by Everret M Rogers in his book “Diffusion of Innovations”, it is defined as the process by which change occurs in the very functioning and structure of the social network or the social system.

Rogers, further quips that the word ‘diffusion’ is often used when there is a spontaneous spread of ideas. A better word that other authors and researchers use is ‘dissemination’ which is more controlled, directed and managed. Rogers contends that he uses diffusion for both planned and spontaneous spread of new ideas.

Let’s look at the below example.

Why the Dvorak keyboard was not diffused?

It is sad that the QWERTY keyboard is widely accepted and used world over to the Dvorak keyboard. This QWERTY keyboard, we so commonly and unsuspectingly use it in our mobile phones, laptops and desktops is such a bad design that we hardly notice, as we have got used to it and we became habituated to it.

It was quite surprising to know that the QWERTY keyword which was introduced a century back in 1873 was used to deliberately slow down the typists and bring in inefficiencies.

By the way, QWERTY is the first six letters of your keyboard that you use today. Please find the picture below.

The bad design of the QWERTY keyboard
The bad design of the QWERTY keyboard

In the year 1932, professor August Dvorak of the University of Washington, conducted elaborate time-motion studies including filming people on how they use keyboards, invented a much more efficient keyboard arrangement called the “Dvorak” keyboard.

Useful Note: You can view the superior design of Dvorak’s keyword at this MIT webpage and a brief note of August Dvorak.

The Dvorak keyboard had a superior key arrangement and design. It had the letters AOEUIDHTN…S across the home row and was quite effective in reducing the strain on the typists.

The Dvorak keyboard reduces the inefficiencies by introducing an arrangement of keys, where 90% of the typing was done on the middle row, 20% on the upper row and 10% on the lower row.

Moreover, typing rhythm was facilitated by introducing vowel letters on the left side of the keyboard and consonants on the right hand side of the keyboard. This key shift arrangement resulted in a 56 % finger load to the right hand and 44% to the left hand (as we know that 90 % of the public are right handed). Further rhythm was introduced when successive keystrokes fell on either hands. So, if one hand is moving to press the key, the other hand gets ready to press the next key. Excellent isn’t it.

On the other hand, the QWERTY keyword was used and introduced to prevent jamming on an archaic typewriter design. The design was awkward no doubt and was introduced to slow down the typists speed. QWERTY keyboard was known to cause Carpel tunnel syndrome but still it is widely used in the present day world.

The reason some say is because of the vested interests of manufacturers, product design and marketing people to promote the use of QWERTY keyboard and the rest is history.

What we need to understand here is that, superior design and innovation does not mean it will automatically lend itself to higher rate of adoption or propel diffusion.  Diffusion of innovation has not happened in the case of Dvorak keyboard and what could be the reasons?

The ‘hum’ of the refrigerator

Another example to illustrate this unfortunate situation is the “Refrigerator hum” which really fascinated me.

We all have refrigerators at home. Our present day refrigerators use a motor (and so the hum!) to run a compressor. This compressor condenses the liquid releasing the heat into the surrounding environment which the liquid had absorbed previously inside the refrigerator before it got vaporized.

Before this system got widely used, there was a superior design which was the “gas refrigerator”. The gas refrigerator design used the ammonia refrigerant. The refrigerant was vaporized by a gas flame. The vaporized ammonia dissolves with water and cools the system.

Then why didn’t this simple design make it to the masses. The diffusion of this superior design innovation has not happened. People say largely it is because of the large corporations like GE and others who have heavily invested in the R&D for further development of compressor motor technology refrigerator for business profits and partnerships and little did they care about the superior design of the market place.

Even though the “gas refrigerator’ technology was launched in parallel, it couldn’t simply compete with the huge advertisement budgets of the large corporations.

The diffusion of the gas refrigerator just simply did not happen.

So what actually runs behind this diffusion process?  How do we get to know which innovation or idea will diffuse spontaneously or in a planned manner. Nobody can predict accurately. From what we understand it is in the way the social network behaves. Which is again dependent on the prevailing times and culture.

But having said that, it does not mean we cannot manage it. We can nurture it and give it the right environment for diffusion and growth.

Diffusion of innovation can be facilitated when the idea or innovation is introduced in the right social network and through a right decision making process.

How does the ‘Innovation decision process’ work?

On record, the process is like any other activity where the information is actively processed for informed decision making.  Here, the uncertainty in adopting a new technology or innovation is considerably reduced through this process and the individual clearly knows the merits and demerits of using such an innovation.

Through this process, we ask the following relevant questions which helps the user in making the decision.

  1. What is the innovation all about?
  2. How does it work?
  3. Why does it work?
  4. What is the impact?
  5. What are the benefits?

For now, we will look at how some innovations are different from the other and how do the masses perceive them. Perceptions about a product make a huge difference in the social system. Not all innovations and ideas are the same and cannot be analyzed in the same manner. It all depends on how people perceive them and hence the different rates of adoption.

brain with idea
Keep working on the innovative decision process

Image credit : Designed by Freepik

1.The competitive performance factor:  Competitive performance is all about how an idea or innovation fares with respect to others in the same genre as well its perception relative to the previous idea from the same genre. The other important factors are the social prestige and the convenience of use. Financials alone cannot tip it but then it is the ‘what is in it for me’ factor that matters a lot for the individual and also for a large section of people.

2.Fitting into the prevailing norms: The idea or innovation should abide to the existing norms, values, past experiences prevalent in the social system or social network at that point in time. Adoption would be difficult if not impossible in societies and countries where innovation or the idea simply does not fit in. The prevailing values and the culture of the social system must be satisfied and accepted first before the idea to be adopted or the diffusion of innovation to happen fast.

3.Easy to understand and use: If a new idea or innovation is easy to understand and use it will be quickly adopted. More complex system will be slowly adopted.

4.Experimentation and testing: The new idea or innovation should be experimented, tested and explored. If it is explorable, then it is easily adopted by the audience.The idea or innovation should provide an opportunity for people to learn or give them a learning experience.

5. The visible results factor: The new idea or innovation should give visible results to the audience. It should also be result oriented and should be clearly understood by all. Visibility of the results further fuels discussion and “iteration of successive ideas”.

It is an accepted norm that when a new innovation or idea has the above attributed then its success rate and adoption rate is high as well.

The Segway PT vehicle example

The Segway product is a good example of how a newly introduced product innovation has become a victim of socially controlled policies and inadequacies of present day society at large.

The Segway vehicle was introduced as an innovative design way back in 2001. You must have seen the Segway vehicle used in some big time Hollywood movies in R&D labs, University campuses and shopping malls. Even now you would see people using them in some of the shopping malls in your countries.

The Segway PT is a battery powered two wheeled vehicle equipped with computers, sensors and motors to balance itself. The vehicle moves forward and backward by shifting the weight forward or backward with a turn handle for turning the vehicle.

The Segway vehicle
The Segway vehicle

Image credit: Pixabay

I have taken the below account on Segway vehicle’s legal status in Czech from the Wikipedia. The legal status and the usage of the vehicle is still unclear in that country.  A rider on Segway PT is seen as a pedestrian and is seen on par with pedestrians with Roller skates and the likes. The transport department in Czech see the Segway PT as ineligible to fulfill the requirements of full-fledged road vehicle. The Segway PT is still not allowed in some parts of Prague.

In Germany, the Segway PT is supposed to have red light and a number plate at the back.  Whilst in Denmark, the SegwayPT is classified as Mopeds.

As we can see the restrictions that are imposed on a innovative product differ from country to country based on the prevailing social norms and culture of that place.

Connections among individuals

Usually, individuals tend to link among others who are similar to them and have the same likes and dislikes. These links are easy to obtain with least effort. The irony is that, such easy to form connections are not the best way for the diffusion of innovation to happen. In contrast, if the connections are geographically and socially distant then such connections are usually stronger in carrying information about new ideas and innovations.

If individuals want to be innovative in adopting new ideas they will have to move away from the weak ties of easily formed links and connections.

Social learning theory

Another important thing is the aspect of social learning theory within a social network for the diffusion of innovation. This has direct consequences on the rate of adoption of a new idea.  The social learning theory was popularized by Stanford University professor, Albert Bandura in the year 1977.

Useful note: Albert Bandura, is ranked  as the fourth most cited Psychologist in the world behind B F Skinner, Sigmund Frued and Jean Piaget.

Social learning theory advocates that the individual learns through observation. By observing the behavior of others, the individual likes to do something similar.

The observation need not be a blind imitation but an informed and organized extract of the essential elements. The same is applied in one’s behavior.

If someone publicly displays, usually a celebrity and gets a rewarded for it then that behavior becomes a norm or a learning for others to follow.

Individuals change their external behavior as a result of learning from others. The same happens with the diffusion of innovations as well. The ‘network link’ and ‘interpersonal networks’ are the main reasons for such diffusion.

A beautiful note from one of the scholars goes like this. It says that the

Diffusion model looks at the society as a ‘huge learning system’ where everyone is observing and learning from each other.They change their behavior based on others and yet they behave and operate independently of one another.


For further resources on this subject, please find the links below.

  1. Diffusion of Innovation on the Wiki
  2. Smart insights– Diffusion of Innovation
  3. Life and times of James. S. Coleman

Image Credit : Selected by Freepik

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How to build your best ideas from your mistakes ?

best ideas from mistakes

How to build your best ideas from your mistakes ?

The best ideas emerge when we make mistakes.There are always best ideas, good ideas and bad ideas. We need to learn from our mistakes.The ideas that actually lead us to innovation don’t appear yet. We need to work on it. When it does come (best ideas that lead to innovation) we hardly remember the dead ones. Such is life.

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The example of Wright Brothers

Wright brothers, best ideas
First aircraft

As an example, we have taken the case of Wright brothers who have invented the airplane in 1903.  The brothers drew from the power of collaboration. It is indicated that, the brothers constantly exchanged new ideas, discussed and thought together. They even played together when they were kids.

We need to understand here that everything they did was a result of conversations and discussions between them. Through this collaboration they made several alterations and modifications to their invention and finally it all pieced together in 1903.

They didn’t experience a single moment of insight. Rather it was the culmination of many successive ideas over many months and years that resulted in their invention. One spark led to another and so on.

There are many such examples. We need to understand and listen to the moments of interaction that we have with ourselves, our environment and with the world. The secret lies in the unraveling of such moments.

The 5 essential features for building best ideas

We have highlighted 5 essentials that any person or a group need to follow to unravel the best ideas from the worldly interactions and from our own past mistakes.

  1. Innovation emerges over time – Great innovation happens over time. We need to give it sufficient time for it to unfold itself. Small incremental ideas will eventually lead to bigger ideas.
  2. Practice observing and listening to others ideas – We need to have the patience and listen to others ideas as well and at the same time come up with our own ideas.
  3. Allow your ideas to be reinterpreted and reapplied – When you allow your ideas to be reinterpreted and reapplied that’s when the ideas get full importance. They get importance only after they get taken up.
  4. Recognize that everybody has a role to play – Apply the approach of going bottoms up. Giving equal importance to everybody in the team serves the purpose. When an innovation does happen, it is always surprising that no one individual would have through about it.
  5. Improvise, make many hits and errors –When we improvise there are always many hits and errors. The hits are amazing and astonishing. The hits (best ideas) would have never been noticed earlier.

When we collaborate and share, the whole is greater than the sum of parts. Creative groups are formed spontaneously and we started looking at the old problem in a new frame. Sparks fly.

Ref:  Keith Sawyer, Group Genius, The creative power of collaboration, Basic books, 2007

Also read, How innovative companies get help from academic research

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How to conduct effective project status meetings

Project status review meeting

Effective Project status update review meetings- A good habit for successful projects


Please watch our video, Conducting a project status update review meeting


Status update review is conducted to communicate the progress of the project to all the team members and senior stakeholders. Meetings are held formally in conference rooms or virtually depending on the needs of the stakeholders and the minutes of the meeting are mailed across to all involved in the project. They are usually held on a periodical basis, often weekly and sometimes depending on the needs of the stakeholders, it is done on a monthly or quarterly basis as well.

A typical project status review meeting addresses and walks through the project’s progress on its planned milestones, issues and challenges faced and the support that is required from the stakeholders.

More importantly, it reinforces the project’s business case and its core objectives from time to time to all the project members, the sponsorship team and also other senior stakeholders and any deviations from the baseline are corrected. Imperatively, such walk through gives a heads up of the upcoming project activities and the support needed from them.

A byproduct or should we say an added benefit is that it gives the project manager   a leadership opportunity for team building, familiarizing and coaching new project members on the workings and procedures of the project plan, introducing new members to the rest of the team and also how to deal with identified issues and clear them so that the project deliverables do not get affected.

A successful meeting solicits feedback from all the involved stakeholders, makes action items and goes to a great length in keeping all of them in the same page as the project progresses in time. Such meetings are a good project habit, it shows the commitment and the effort that has been put in so far by the project manager and his team members, reinforces accountability and creating the confidence among senior stakeholders on the project manager, the project members and on the way the project is managed and run.

Keep these meetings to an hour or less. Now let’s look at how a simple and an effective five point project update review slide looks like.


Also read,  How review meetings are conducted.


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Accepting responsibility at work and in life

Accept responsibility

Accepting responsibility at work and in life.


When you want to succeed at work and in life, you need to develop the capacity to be yourself. Very often when things go wrong, we have the tendency to put the blame on others.

Actually, accepting responsibility does not mean putting the blame on ourselves. Accepting responsibility lies in the fact that you are taking ownership of your problem.

You are assessing the situation and identifying the areas where improvements need to done so as to make effective changes within your life and at work. By accepting responsibility and making things right, you are sure to get a better outcome when you do the same thing again, without putting the blame on others.


Accepting responsibility, wholeheartedly
Accepting responsibility wholeheartedly

Realizing it and accepting it wholeheartedly

We need to realize that we are responsible for our own success in the work place. We need to accept the fact that whatever you are and whatever you want to be, is entirely in your hands. Only when you accept it wholeheartedly, you will be able to get rid of the bad habit of putting the blame on others.

When certain things have not happened in your career or certain promotions have not come in at the right time, it is easy to put the onus on others. But if you examine closely you always had the choice, to own up and do the right things that are required.

You alone are responsible for your own state of affairs and being happy or unhappy.

The day when you realize this, it will be a new beginning for you towards your journey of accepting responsibility at work and in life.


Accepting responsibility
Do not find excuse for failures

Do not find an excuse for your failures

A good thing to always remember is that we are here in the organization to perform our duty and we are being paid for it.

Many a times it happens that we just want to create an excuse for our failures. We just don’t want to fail in the eyes of others and often cite reasons to pass the blame on to them.

However, if we accept the responsibility and complete our tasks, we will be in more control of ourselves and we would start achieving what we wanted to do in our professional lives. We just need to accept the assignments and perform them willingly, happily and enthusiastically.

It boils down to say that you just take the idea and run with it rather than be told what to do with it and put them into practice.

Top performers when they see the job that needs doing, they just go ahead and perform it.

The difference between the top performers and those who accomplish little lies in the fact that top performers assume to choose responsibility.


Maturing emotionally
Maturing emotionally

Maturing emotionally

Another aspect of people who accept responsibility is that they mature emotionally. One important aspect is to remain positive and accept failures and learn from them. It is the expression of adulthood.

You also know that things can be done differently and there are other alternatives. Accepting responsibility also means to take help from others. It is good to seek feedback in areas where we need improvement and have a support network.

You will not feel threatened when you find that others in your team have a better solution than yours. You happily accept it and run with it. The more a person accepts responsibility and initiates actions the more he grows into greater levels of autonomy.

Having accomplished simple things, the person wants to achieve difficult work challenges worthy of his or her talents. Success builds on success.


Talk to your Manager with a development action plan

Accepting responsibility also means that you have a plan to implement the much needed changes which can bring improvements into your current situation or work projects.

Have a monthly feedback session with your manager and discuss with him or her that you want to take up additional projects.

Before approaching, make sure you are up to date on your current projects. Accept the feedback from your manager with a positive attitude and discuss ways with him or her on how you can improve.

Discuss your career goals with your manager and how your career goals are aligned with the objectives of the company.

Follow up with your manager with a development action plan on how you want to implement the changes for your improvement areas.

Develop an action plan by identifying the changes that need to be brought in for your developmental areas. Have a workable timeline which covers both, on the job learning as well as classroom learning.


Accepting responsibility
Valuable lessons from experience

Learning valuable lessons through experience

Another useful outcome of accepting responsibility is that it teaches us valuable lessons through experience. From experience we learn what kind of actions produce fruitful consequences.

It only comes through experience and cannot be taught in a classroom. As you take in more responsibility, you become more secure more confident and start taking risks and initiatives. This makes the person evolve to become a more confident self starter without close supervision.

Sometimes we learn a lot through failure and we clearly understand what went wrong. Accepting responsibility also means sharing the lessons learned with others at work so that they can take up effective action.

Seek out areas where the company needs help and volunteer. Taking part in the company’s extracurricular activities shows you are proactive and willing to contribute meaningfully for your organization as well as for your own growth.

Become an expert in your area of expertise and master your craft.


Finally, accepting responsibility is a choice you make for yourself autonomously. It empowers you and gets you nearer to your goals at work as well in life.

If you feel this write up has benefited you, please feel free to share it on social media and send in your comments.


Good read on the same topic from Responsibility and blame are two different things, Psychology today.

Also read, Cultural diversity in the workplace


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Understanding and embracing cultural diversity in the workplace

Cultural diversity, as diverse as fruits

Understanding and embracing the cultural diversity in a global company.


In a typical proceeding of a ubiquitous American global conference call, an American manager speaks over the phone “Does anyone have any questions” and there is a notable silence from their Asian counterparts or team members across the globe. No one utters a word. No one speaks. We all have noticed that this is a fact of cultural diversity.

A common notion among people working in global companies is that people operate and behave in the same professional way because all of them work for the same company. This is not the case all the time. There are huge differences in the way people work. When we come to work, we bring with us our own cultural values, perceptions and beliefs into the system.

Cultural diversity
Diversity at workplace

In any setting, we tend to bring in our own style and approach to the work setting and to a social situation. It is like we all are interacting in a huge marriage party and as such, the feelings of chemistry, preferences and archetypes are quite different.

We cannot deny the fact that social upbringing and conditioning invariably comes into the professional setting and so we all are less professional and logical than we think. We see the world through our own experiences and we react or respond to others in the same way. We need to be cognizant of the fact that cultural diversity exists.

As Laura says in her book “The loudest duck”, it is customary in the United States that people are taught  “The squeaky wheel gets the grease” and you will get noticed when you speak up. The Asian or the Chinese counterpart for the same is  “the loudest duck gets shot” and being outspoken is discouraged.

What stands in our way are the familiar lessons in humility. We learn in all humbleness, “when you don’t have anything to say, then don’t say it at all”. What we need to understand and  question ourselves is that how does this translate to the global corporate culture? And how does it influence the way we act and respond to others?

Cultural diversity in grafitti
Cultural diversity in grafitti

Coming back to the situation that happens on our ubiquitous global conference call, if people are more assertive and voice their ideas, they get recognized more at the expense of the ducks who don’t speak at all.

This doesn’t mean that the ducks don’t have ideas at all, it is just that their cultural values stop them. The organization loses on the cultural diversity. A level playing field need to be established in such a way that the ducks also get heard.

In this way, we can achieve the cognitive diversity we are seeking in the company.

Excerpts from “The loudest duck” by Laura Liswood, Senior Advisor, Goldman sachs.

Also read, Real happiness is when you know the ingredients

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