Diffusion Of Innovation Essay

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The  sociological  theory  of diffusion  of innovation analyzes the development,  adoption,  and success of inventions,  new ideas, processes,  and  technologies. With   globalization   and   worldwide   interconnectedness of business, cultures, and communications steadily increasing, the spread of innovation  is more often accelerated as diffusion patterns change. As the adoption  or rejection of new abstract  ideas depends significantly on the attitudes  of individuals, groups, organizations,  or nation-states, the  communication and persuasion  means employed to influence potential adopters  are of the  highest  significance for the diffusion of innovation.  Ultimately  the  adoption  or rejection  of innovations  may  initiate  or  accelerate structural  change.

Diffusion refers to “the process in which an innovation is communicated through  certain channels over time among the members  of a social system.” Innovations are new ideas, the new application  of innovations, or an idea perceived as new. When it comes to the adoption  of innovations  and ideas, one of the central  questions  surrounding  diffusion research  is the  identification  of differences  between  early and late adopters.

Innovativeness  refers to the willingness and ability to adopt  new ideas earlier than  other  people or groups.  Are some  actors  more  open  to  innovation than others? The literature  identifies six factors that characterize  adopters: (1) societal entity  of innovators,  (2) familiarity  with  the  innovation,  (3) status characteristics,   (4)  socioeconomic   characteristics, (5) relative position  in social networks, and (6) personal characteristics.  Apart from these actor-specific characteristics,  the nature of the environment is also important in terms of adoption and diffusion.

Although  the  focus of many  diffusion studies  is more upon the individual and group attitudes toward innovation or the environmental context, the adoption of innovation  also has consequences  for the actor(s): these consequences can be differentiated into private and public consequences. The adoption of innovation that results in private consequences includes innovation that directly shapes the well-being and structures of individuals, small organizations, and communities. Public consequences  tend more to involve and influence  macro-structures,  and  societal  and  historical issues. In more  recent  years, the  role of the  media in the diffusion of innovation  and the persuasion  of actors has been recognized.

A further area of interest is the role of the perceived attribute of an innovation in the rate of adoption. Individuals may understand innovation  based on (1) the relative advantage of the innovation in comparison to existing solutions and practices, (2) its compatibility with existing and potential needs and experiences, (3) its complexity in terms of the degree of understanding, (4) the trial ability, that is, to experience the innovation to a certain degree and time period, and (5) the observability or degree to which an innovation  or its results are observable. The thesis is that if individuals see the success of an innovation  they are more likely to adopt it.

Time is a critical element  in the diffusion of new ideas as it involves (a) the innovation-decision process, (b) innovativeness, and (c) the innovation’s rate of adoption. The innovation-decision process is a process of learning about the innovation, the building of an attitude  toward the innovation  that results in the decision to either adopt or reject the innovation, the modes and extents of the implications of the innovation, and confirmation  of the decision. An S-shaped diffusion  curve  distinguishes  earlier  adopters  from late adopters. The curve starts slowly in line with the few early adopters,  followed by an overproportional growth, followed by a stagnation  phase. The five adopter categories include innovators, early adopters, early majority, late majority, and laggards.

In  1903 French  sociologist  Gabriel  Tarde  identified the  “laws of imitation,”  that  is, the  diffusion of the  innovation  process  that  explains the  rate  of adoption or the diffusion rate. Tarde recognized that the rate of adoption  follows the S-shaped diffusion curve. Years later, a number  of European anthropologists in England and Germany-Austria used diffusion research to explain the consequences of innovation as they pertain  social change in a society. One of the early explicit diffusion studies was conducted by Ryan and Cross in their examination of the spread of hybrid-corn use in 1943. In his seminal 1962 book Diffusion  of Innovation,  Everett  Rogers  identified major diffusion research traditions ranging from anthropology,   sociology,  education,   communication, marketing and management, and geography. From  then  on,  various  disciplines  used  diffusion research to analyze the sequence and consequences of innovations.

Everett Rogers identified eight main types of diffusion research: Earliness of knowing about innovation, rate of adoption of different forms of innovation in a social system, innovativeness,  opinion  leadership, diffusion networks, rate of adoption in different social systems, communication channel  usage, and consequences  of innovation.  The study of the diffusion of innovation is relevant for areas such as information system research, knowledge management, marketing, change management research, and social change research.


  1. Susan A. Brown, Norman L. Chervany, and Bryan A. Reinicke, “What Matters When Introducing New Information   Technology,”  Communications  of the  ACM (v.50/9, 2007);
  2. Kenneth H. Keller, “From Here to There in Information Technology,” American  Behavioral  Scientist (v.52/1, 2008);
  3. Constantinos Markides, “Rethinking Innovation,” Leader to Leader (v.34, 2004);
  4. Everett M. Rogers, Diffusion of Innovations, 5th ed. (Free Press, [1962] 2003);
  5. Everett M. Rogers, “New Product Adoption and Diffusion,” Journal of Consumer Research (v.2, 1976);
  6. Barbara Wejnert, “Integrating  Models of Diffusion of Innovations: A Conceptual  Framework,”  Annual  Review of Sociology (v.28/1, 2002);
  7. Wa Wulf, “Changes in Innovation Ecology,” Science (v.316/5829, 2007).

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