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Wow. So human psychology is predictable after all, even when it comes to the way people adopt new products and ideas. It's really, truly amazing how this book not only takes the guesswork out of this process, but bases all of this on science and shows that this process is pretty much the same for any people group in any time and place. Right now I am getting ready to launch a new product and this has helped me so much in understanding what to expect and what I will need to do--not a cookie-cutter set of instructions, mind you, but a set of principles and "generalizations" (as they call them in the book) to work with and keep in mind as I build things.
The problem with this book for entrepreneurs is two-fold in that: 1) the book is written for a large audience that includes everyone from newbies to the "invisible college" that dominates this field of study in universities and the like, and 2) it's written in a semi-academic tone that may be a bit of an intense read for some. For this reason I am offering a little "tour guide" for entrepreneurs that may help them in getting through this book and getting the most out of it, along with summaries of some of the best things that I learned from this book, and some commentary and criticisms as well.
Here we go:
CHAPTER 1: Elements of diffusion.
This is a little intro to the basic anatomy of the diffusion of a product or idea into a culture. The thesis is: "Diffusion is the process by which 1) an INNOVATION 2) is COMMUNICATED through certain CHANNELS 3) over TIME 4) among members of a SOCIAL SYSTEM." (p. 11). It then takes you on a quick tour of all four of those things. It's got some great stories about innovations that failed, such as the Dvorak keyboard, which was supposed to replace the QWERTY keyboard but didn't, and why that didn't happen.
CHAPTERS 2 & 3: A history of diffusion research; Contributions and criticisms of diffusion research.
This is more for the academics, so I would just recommend reading the summaries of the chapters, and go to the individual sections if you need anything in particular. Take heart in knowing that the the author, the late Everett C. rogers, was completely NON-SNOBBY and takes on the "Invisible College" of Diffusion Research and some of their staid ways of doing things. Nothing like having a new edition of the snobs' own Bible calling them out! What a guy.
CHAPTER 4: The generation of innovations.
Things start cooking here for entrepreneurs, especially in the first part of the chapter. This chapter shows the full life cycle of an innovation, from the perception of a need to the completed and fully diffused product's consequences on society. One really important point here is that that chapter seeks to not only show the full life cycle of an innovation, but also looks at the "decisions and events occurring previous to" the introduction of the innovation (p. 136), starting with the recognizing of a problem or need.
This part may help you in thinking through how your product meets people's needs. Don't be like a bad rock band or a self-centered neo-burlesque dancer that is going out and doing whatever they are doing just to meet their own needs without thinking twice about the needs of their audience! Do you care about being on stage or being the first to do something or whatever, or do you care about meeting other people's needs?
CHAPTER 5: The Innovation-decision process.
We're getting hotter! This explains how an individual decides to adopt (or reject) a new innovation. It's a five stage process, consisting of: 1) Knowledge of the innovation, 2) Persuasion (i.e. forming a favorable or unfavorable attitude toward it), 3) A Decision (to accept or reject), 4) Implementation of the innovation, and 5) Confirmation (i.e. seeking reinforcement of the decision from others). Between 3 and 5 (the Decision and the Confirmation), the individual may decide to stop using the innovation; this is called "Discontinuance". Or, they may reject initially and then adopt later when they have different information.
One interesting thing that you will read about in this chapter is about re-invention, which happens at the Implementation stage (Stage 4). A lot of people actually adapt or alter innovations to suit their own needs, and the book suggests that this is OK and that it shouldn't be frowned upon. It even suggests that the more that people can reinvent an innovation to suit their needs, the more likely that the innovation will succeed in being accepted. Another concept that this chapter introduces is the difference between mass media versus interpersonal channels. Actually the media is the initial way that innovations get noticed, and over time, the media influence drops and interpersonal channels take over.
CHAPTER 6: Attributes of innovations.
Here we get a look at the characteristics of innovations that "make it" in the marketplace. The five things that successful innovations have in common are: 1) Relative Advantage (i.e. the perception that the new item or idea is better than an existing, established one), 2) Compatibility (it fits in with the existing way of doing things), 3) Complexity (the amount of complexity is not too much for the user to handle), 4) Trialability (they can try the item out without much consequence if they decide to back out), and 5) Observability (they can gauge the idea's positive effects for themselves). All of these attributes must be perceived THROUGH THE EYES OF THE ADOPTER, not the person offering the innovation (that's a big mistake that's made a lot).
It is important that an innovation (or group of innovations) be named properly. The book says, "Words are the thought units" that structure people's perceptions, and "The Word symbols for a new idea [must have] the desired meaning for the intended audience" (p. 251). It's surprising how many times this important aspect is overlooked.
CHAPTER 7: Innovativeness and adapter categories.
This is the heart of the book; all of the book up to this point funnels into this one chapter. Here we see the innovation "bell curve" for the acceptance of a new idea, and the five categories of adopters: 1) innovators, 2) early adopters, 3) early majority, 4) late majority, and 5) laggards. We get a look at what all of these groups are like, and, most importantly, get a really good look at the characteristics of early adopters versus those of later adopters.
The one thing that this section in particular points out is that it's the very early adopters, not the innovators, who have the most effect on others adopting an innovation. The reason why is that the innovators are usually perceived as too far outside of the existing social system and therefore not good role models.
A good way to think of this is via the sitcom "Seinfeld". Kramer was the innovator, always trying kooky ideas that may or may not work. Seinfeld was the early adopter; he was liked and looked up to in his social system. If he tried something Kramer did, and it worked, then other people would look at Seinfeld and do it too.
CHAPTER 8: Diffusion networks.
THIS CHAPTER IS REALLY, REALLY ESSENTIAL. Another name for the Seinfelds of the world (as denoted above) is "opinion leaders". They are the people looked up to in a social system for info on new ideas. If they do it, others are willing to try it as well. This chapter opens up the secrets of opinion leaders and the way that they work, and demonstrates that the way to REALLY get an innovation to take off is to locate and work with these opinion leaders. This requires focused, deliberate networking, so brush up on those networking skills so that you can make those connections.
CHAPTER 9: The change agent.
Here the book starts to wind down and we get into what could possibly be some superfluous information for entrepreneurs. The info about change agents seems to be written more for non-profit organizations that are seeking cause-related change. Although if you have a street team or do some type of decentralized marketing, this might be good info for making disciples for your new product or idea.
CHAPTER 10: Innovation in organizations.
If you are looking to sell your product or idea to businesses or other types of organizations instead of to individuals, you will want to read this; if only individuals are your clients, skip it. You will need networking skills here too because the info about opinion leaders becomes especially pertinent in organizations; there you will be looking for people who champion your product and convince the rest of the organization to buy in.
CHAPTER 11: Consequences of innovations.
Unfortunately, this is the worst-researched part of the book, which they admit to initially. Read this section with a grain of salt because if you don't, then you may end up walking away paranoid about rocking the boat and end up not introducing an innovation that may help alleviate someone else's misery. This part of the book seems to value stable, equally-distributed misery over the unstable growing pains of progress, and obsesses over the divide that an innovation could create between those who have it and those who don't. The horror stories that they tell, such as an Australian aboriginal tribe's decline upon receiving the technology of the steel axe (over the traditional stone axe), demonstrate that a new technology and the new freedom that comes with it also bring a new responsibility with it, which the recipients of the new technology may or may not be ready for. They admit under their breath that innovations actually help enrich everyone's lives (p. 457: "[T]he earlier adopters get richer, and the later adopters' ECONOMIC GAIN [emphasis added] is comparably less"), blatantly contradicting themselves when they say, "usually new ideas make the rich richer and the poor poorer" (p. 444) a few pages earlier. Also, they ignore that it may be the habits of late adopters, such as their tendency toward dogmatism and fatalism, that actually put them on the short end of the stick. This brings into the equation the importance of packaging a responsible mindset into one's new innovation and thinking ahead. It would be wise to eliminate as many foreseeable bad consequences from the innovation as possible; these bad consequences could sift the innovation out during its diffusion process if you are not careful. Avoid paranoia about upsetting the bowl of marbles just because someone else can't get their own marbles together, and do the very best you can.
Hope this helps, and bon voyage in reading this overall very helpful and fascinating book!