Diffusion of innovations

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Diffusion of innovations
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Diffusion of innovation describes the phenomenon of the extent to which an innovation and new technology are accepted or non-accepted by people in society and the scale of their spread and adoption.

Theorie of diffusion

The sociologist E.M. Rogers was the first to establish the diffusion of innovations model, describing the spread of innovations in a social system through specific channels over a period of time (Roger 1962). He divides the process of decision-making and adaptation into 5 steps and distinguishes between different types of adopters. Depending on their personal characteristics, people adopt innovations at different rates. He also assigned various characteristics to innovations that ultimately determine when an innovation is accepted by society (Rogers, Singhal, Quinlan 2014, p. 207).

Process of the innovation-decision

The process by which an innovation is adopted by people is divided into 5 successive stages. Roger explains that adaptation is not a spontaneous action, but a deliberate process that is shaped by individual factors. The 5 stages of the process are (MacVaugh, Schiavone 2010):

  • Knowledge: People need to discover an innovation first.
  • Persuasion: People familiarize themselves with an innovation and form an individual opinion about it.
  • Decision: In this step, opinions are expressed. People accept or reject the innovation.
  • Implementation: Individuals begin to use the innovation and incorporate it into their lives.
  • Confirmation: Person seeks confirmation and decides whether to confirm or reverse the innovation decision.

Adopter categories

Diffusion theory assumes that individual conditions and characteristics of the innovation determine the process of adoption of an innovation. Individual circumstances determine the phase in which an innovation is adopted. A total of 5 different adopters are defined (Rogers 2003):

Fig. 1 Adopter Categorization on the Basis of Innovativeness (Source: Rogers 2003)
  1. Innovators - Innovators are the first people to adopt an innovation. They are risk takers and introduce innovations to society. They usually belong to the highest social class and are often already waiting for the next innovation to appear.
  2. Early Adopters - Early adopters are the opinion leaders. They follow shortly after the innovators and are generally interested in innovative products.
  3. Early Majority - The decision-making of the early majority is influenced by the previous two groups. This group is waiting a little longer before also adapting an innovation.
  4. Late Majority - This part of the consumer corresponds to the part of the majority that adopts an innovation later than the average user. This group of people is very skeptical, has a lower income and a lower social status in society.
  5. Laggards - Laggards are the last people to adopt an innovation. They are basically very traditional and have a negative view of change. They are very skeptical about innovations and represent the group with the lowest social status.

Characteristics of innovation

Roger also identified factors that characterize an innovation and determine whether it will be successfully adapted by a social group. Each person perceives these characteristics individually and makes the decision of adaptation for himself (Rogers, Singhal, Quinlan 2014):

  • Relative advantage: The degree to which the innovation has a greater benefit than the element, product or program currently in use.
  • Compatibility: The degree to which the innovation matches the desires, experiences, and values of the potential user.
  • Complexity: The degree to which an innovation can be easily understood and applied by the potential user.
  • Triability: The degree to which an innovation can be tried before a commitment is made.
  • Observability: The extent to which the innovation produces visible results.


Author: Alexandra Schulze