Innovation is about better means of Getting jobs done. Innovation diffusion theory attempts to shed light on the pattern of adoption of ideas in society. This is about the adoption behavior of innovation by the target groups. How a new idea diffuses in society is vital to the innovator, policymakers, and other stakeholders. Our knowledge about how innovation diffuses has roots in the book of Everett Rogers, published in 1962. Being a professor of Communication Studies, he attempted to theorize it as a social science theory. He tried to explain how, over time, an idea or product gains momentum and spreads through a specific population or social system.
But his approach fell short in describing how technological innovation keeps gaining momentum and diffusing in the market. As opposed to remaining static, technological innovations keep evolving. Successive releases of better versions lead to innovation diffusion as progressive waves—culminating into a mega wave. For example, despite the greatness, Edison’s idea of the light bulb did not create success all of a sudden. Over the last more than 200 years, the idea of the light bulb has been evolving and progressively diffusing deeper into society. Similarly, the evolution of television has been playing a great driving force for its diffusion deeper into society.
Rogers’s Innovation Diffusion Theory:
From the perspective of communication theory, innovation does not diffuse all of a sudden in society. It depends on multiple factors, from affinity, information, and experience gap to time. Some people are more receptive to adopting new ideas or innovations than others. Among others, personal attributes like propensity to new ideas and curiosity vary, affecting varying responses to adoption. Hence, in promoting innovation, understanding unique characteristics pertaining to different sub-groups of the target population matters, as they will help or hinder the adoption of the innovation.
Based on the effects of such factors on innovation adoption, Rogers divided customers into 05 major groups. These groups are (i) Innovators, (ii) Early Adopters, (iii) Early majority, (iv) Late majority, and (v) Laggards. People who belong to the first group are highly responsive to a new idea. However, the majority of the people fall in the middle two groups, while a small section belongs to the first two and last one groups.
Furthermore, in addition to personal attributes, the adoption of innovation is also affected by other factors like (i) Relative advantage, (ii) Compatibility, (iii) Complexity, (iv) Tribality, and (v) Observability.
Rogers’ Theory Forming Bell-Shaped Curve of Innovation Diffusion:
As per Rogers’ theory, a small segment of target adopters or customers are venturesome and interested in new ideas. They show the highest interest in being the first to try the innovation. However, they roughly contribute as low as 2.5 percent of the total potential customers.
The following group members are early adopters, comprising a larger group of innovators. Unlike innovators, they are opinion leaders. They have a leadership position and embrace change opportunities to maintain their edge. They are well aware of emerging ideas resulting in high preparedness in adopting innovation. As opposed to curiosity, they are very much driven by functional interest. Hence, how-to manuals and information sheets on implementation play a vital role in attacking this group of customers. They are self-motivator and movers. Therefore, the strategy of providing information to convince them to change may be counterproductive.
The early majority segment waits to see the evidence that the innovation works before adopting it. Hence, success stories and proof of the innovation’s effectiveness, mainly gained from the early adopters, are helpful in diffusing innovation in this segment. Customers belonging to the late majority are skeptical. They will only try an innovation after the majority has adopted it. Hence, statistics about how many people have already adopted the innovation are pretty helpful to convince them to embrace innovation. The laggard group is bound by tradition and very conservative. They will only assume when they find themselves isolated or left out for not being an adopter of the innovation. However, the attribute of adopters is just one of many variables affecting the diffusion of innovations. For example, despite the readiness of users for adoption, a number of critical issues have been affecting the diffusion of electric vehicles (EVs).
Limitations of Rogers’ Theory to Interpret the Diffusion of Technological Innovations:
It seems that Rogers has perceived an innovation as a static idea. Within this context, the personal attributes of different customers or target groups are relevant factors affecting innovation diffusion. Theorization of innovation diffusion within such a perception works within the context of diffusion of static innovation as a public good.
There is no denying that Rogers’ innovation diffusion theory has been found very relevant to guide us in many fields such as communication, agriculture, public health, criminal justice, social work, and marketing. As this theory is based on the attributes of adopters, innovation diffusion strategy focuses on the understanding of the target population and the factors influencing their rate of adoption.
But within the context of technological innovation in a competitive market, ideas are not static. Irrespective of the greatness, invariably, all ideas emerge in primitive form. The perceived value of such primitive emergence is usually minimal. Furthermore, at the beginning, the cost is high. Fortunately, these ideas are amenable to advancement with a flow of incremental ideas. Hence, innovators keep releasing successive better versions, affecting both the perceived value and affordability. As a result, innovation diffusion breath and depth keep changing. In addition to personal attributes, the economics of innovation due to advancement keeps affecting the diffusion. Rogers’s well-known innovation diffusion theory has not addressed such aspects of the diffusion of technological innovation.
Innovation Advancement Keeps Unfolding Progressively Bigger Waves of Diffusion:
Innovations keep progressing with the advancement of existing features and the addition of new features. Often time, such improvements take place along with the decreasing cost. The progression of the underlying technology is the driving force, as shown in Fig. 2.
For example, the idea of ECG came as a two-room full highly expensive machine. Similarly, 5MB computer hard disk showed up as a room-full one-ton machine. The continued Flow of Ideas, due to the advancement of scientific knowledge and urgency of making them better and cheaper, has been opening the door of increasing the perceived value and affordability simultaneously.
Innovators have been taking advantage of it by releasing successive versions. Their emergence may form wavelets too. It happens to be that these consecutive versions have been offering higher value for money. As a result, an increasing number of customers have been adopting. Furthermore, users of previous versions have been replacing them with recently released ones. Consequentially, adoption waves have been progressively growing bigger with the advancement of innovation, as shown in Fig. 2. Such progressive waves appear as bursts of thrust, diffusing innovation deeper in the market. However, to create such an effect, there is a need for systematic ideation and management of technology.
Progressively Bigger Waves Keep Emerging:
As explained, great ideas emerge in primitive form. Hence, the target adopter group for such a primitive emergence is tiny, as shown in Fig. 3. Due to the advancement of the innovation or idea, customers start seeing increasing value. Often, it keeps unfolding as higher quality at a decreasing price. Hence, a growing number of customers start adopting the idea. As a result, innovation diffusion as progressive waves, getting bigger, becomes a reality. The externality factors and response from the competition also affect the diffusion. For these reasons, by leveraging externality and other enabling factors, Apple has been succeeding in diffusing iPhone among a growing customer base by releasing successively improved versions. However, as opposed to random sparks, the push of diffusion of innovation increasingly deeper into the market demands focusing on the theorization of the journey of innovation for systematically ferreting out value from the market.