Deb: Responding to the winds of change

Émilie du Châtelet and Her iMac G3, after Nicolas de Largillière by Mike Licht Art appropriation by Mike Licht: Émilie du Châtelet and Her iMac G3, after Nicolas de Largillière

“Are you the type of person who has the latest device and is across the most recent applications before almost anyone else has even heard of them?”

Or are you like one of my family members who still buys a phone on the basis that all he needs it for is to make phone calls?

I have been thinking about this topic a lot and reflecting on our reactions and responses to innovations. Why do we gravitate towards some technological devices and even become champions for them and not others? Why do we adopt some devices and not others?
Understanding the reasons that impact on adoption of any technological innovation is becoming even more important, but particularly in business and education sectors. It is written about extensively and is particularly relevant to organisations that seek to understand how we all respond to new technology.

One of the most important theories on this topic is Everett M. Rogers’ ‘Diffusion of Innovations’. This theory was first proposed in 1962, but remains as relevant today.

One aspect of this very comprehensive theory that I really find fascinating is Rogers’ categorisation of individuals’ response to innovations according to the point at which they adopt a new idea or practice.

Rogers’ identifies five different groups of adopters that are based on shared characteristics and values. These groups are called Innovators, Early Adopters, Early Majority, Late Majority and Laggards. Every time I hear the word “laggard” I smile. It sounds an old fashioned word, but also somehow seems quite descriptive.

Rogers’ labels the first and relatively small group the Innovators. These are the people who come up with new ideas and new ways of doing things. Rogers describes them as “ venturesome”. They are daring, willing to take risks and are able to accept occasional setbacks. It is the Innovators who are responsible for launching new ideas.

Next is the Early Adopters. They will jump on board with a new idea or the latest gadget if there appears to be some benefits to be gained by doing so. Rogers describes the early adopters as status-driven, yet also risk takers. They are often the ones that others seek out for advice and opinions about innovations. A librarian I know has hardly a book in her house, having long ago traded them in for ebooks. A quintessential early adopter.

The third group is the Early Majority. These people like to wait for some solid evidence of the benefits before making the change. Rogers considers this group to be relatively comfortable with new ideas, but they are pragmatic, wary of fads and may deliberate for a long time before making the decision to adopt.

Next comes the Late Majority, a conservative group with risk-averse tendencies. They tend to be sceptical of new ideas, and they often only adopt because of external pressure perhaps from peers, or because of economic necessity. My sister-in-law is probably an example of a late majority “I have never read an ebook, but I might be interested to try”.

And the final group is the Laggards. These are often the traditionalists amongst us: those people who are suspicious of innovation and prefer the status quo. They resist adopting any new idea or practice to the bitter end. Amongst my friends, there are the definite laggards “I love nothing more than holding a print book and I refuse to read on a screen. It is just not the same!”

“I see no advantage in these new clocks. They run no faster than the ones made 100 years ago.”
― Henry Ford

Of course these five categories are not fixed characterisations of individuals. I could not say in all honesty that I am an Early Adopter. Although this could be accurate where educational technology is concerned, when it comes to the idea of incorporating kale into my everyday diet, then I am definitely a laggard! So, not surprisingly, adoption of any innovation will vary for reasons to do with the innovation itself including how easy it is to use, the relative advantage it offers, and whether it is compatible with the users’ own values.

What I‘ve presented here is a very simplistic overview of Rogers’ theory. But I think the categories he has defined are a fascinating starting point for personal reflection concerning our response to new ideas, and perhaps especially to new technologies

Can you see where you might fit into one or more of Rogers’ groups?

Yours in conversation,

References and further reading:
Rogers, E.M. (2003). Diffusion of innovations (5th ed.) New York: Free Press
Image source: Mike Licht. Émilie du Châtelet and Her iMac G3, after Nicolas de Largillière