Breaking the Mold: An Educational Perspective on Diffusion of Innovation/Defining Innovation

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By Ashaun Moore

Innovation can cause a social change, or process in which change happens in the structure of a social system. Social systems can change with the introduction of new innovations. Rogers does not mention how negative repercussions of innovation should be dealt with if they come about. Social systems can also influence the adoption of an innovation. Moore's chapter revisits Rogers’ Diffusion of Innovations model and Brown’s Design Thinking to discuss a definition of innovation. It highlights Rogers’ and Brown’s stronger attributes (e.g., re-invention and ideation), but also discusses these theories' limitations.

Everett Rogers’ Definition of Innovation[edit | edit source]

According to Rogers, an innovation is an idea, practice, or object perceived as new by an individual or other unit of adoption. Rogers focuses mainly on technological innovations. Innovations can be material objects or non-material. Also, whether or not an innovation is new is not dependent upon the amount of time that lapsed since the previous idea that it precedes (Rogers, 2003, p. 12-14; Straub, 2009, p. 626).

Rogers does not discuss what infrastructure needs to already be in place in order to encourage innovation. He also does not go into too much detail about the process of innovation. Elements that are critical to the innovation process are solid commitment by the leadership staff, a positive environment that encourages innovation, and allowing people who are outside of the organization to participate as well (Hornik, 2004, p. 143; Hoeber, 2012, p. 213-223).

Innovation can cause a social change, or process in which change happens in the structure of a social system. Social systems can change with the introduction of new innovations. Rogers does not mention how negative repercussions of innovation should be dealt with if they come about. Social systems can also influence the adoption of an innovation.

Question to think about… Is Rogers’ definition of innovation still applicable in virtual innovations (Web 2.0, Social Media)?

Attributes of Innovations[edit | edit source]

The attributes of innovations that influence how a society perceives an innovation are relative advantage, compatibility, complexity, trialability, and observablity. Being on the positive side of these attributes can help ensure that the potential adopters see the benefits of the innovation and how it is right for them. These attributes are still relevant today (Rogers, 2003, p. 15-16; Gouws, 2011, p. 238).

Relative Advantage[edit | edit source]

Relative advantage is the degree to which an innovation is perceived as being better or worse than the innovations that already exist of its kind. This also deals with how congruent the innovation is with current ideas and understanding. Innovations that seem to be better than the previous innovation are not always adopted. Some reasons include the innovation being hard to understand, considered morally wrong, and the results not being easy visible to others (for example, transition from CD to MP3). Rogers does not mention ways to fix the relative advantage of the innovation so that adopters can understand and see the results of innovations. I would assume that innovators need some guidance on how to make sure that their innovation is simple enough for people to understand. People are not going to adopt a technology because it’s the newest or the greatest if they do not understand it (Rogers, 2003, p. 15; Straub, 2009, p. 630).

Relative advantage can be based on perceptions of the results of the innovation to the potential adopters. Innovations such as genetically modified food may be viewed as unhealthy or immoral depending on the opinions and ideals of the potential adopter. Another example is digital music. Some people do not like buying and listening to music as MP3s because some sound quality is lost when music is digitized into MP3 form. Others prefer buying and listening to digital music because their music collection can be synced to the cloud and they can access it wherever.

Compatibility[edit | edit source]

Compatibility is the degree to which an innovation is consistent with existing values, norms, past experiences, and the needs of potential adopters. Even if an innovation has high relative advantage, it might not be adopted if it is not considered socially acceptable or is different from current practices. Rogers does not mention ways to combat incompatibility of innovations or how to ensure that innovations align with the current norms of a society. Ways to combat incompatibility include conducting surveys and observing people who are likely to be potential adopters (Rogers, 2003, p. 15-16).

Human cloning is an innovation that has a high relative advantage, depending on how you view it, but is not considered socially acceptable in some social groups and that is why is has failed to become a widely adopted practice. The act of cloning does not currently align with the norms of our society as a whole. Nearly every cloning experiment has been controversial.

Complexity[edit | edit source]

Complexity is the degree to which an innovation is perceived as difficult to understand and use to the adopters. If an innovation is difficult to understand and learn about, it might be slow to be adopted, even if it has clear relative advantages. Rogers does not mention how to make the innovation easier to understand and use (Rogers, 2003, p. 16).

HTML coding is considered complex to most people. In order to learn HTML, people usually take courses or lessons on it. HTML is not something that most people can just play around with and completely learn how to code without studying it or reading a book on it. Even though knowing HTML can allow people to create appealing websites, it takes extra steps in order to learn it and a lot of people see it as difficult to learn. I think that is why people do not use it and a lot of website creation sites, like Blogger and Google Sites, use a non-HTML user interface.

Trialability[edit | edit source]

Trialability is the degree to which an innovation may be experimented with on a limited basis. If people have the opportunity to test out the innovation for a limited period of time, it will be easier for them to make a decision on whether or not to adopt the innovation. For example, many stores give consumers the option to try a video game in the store before making their purchasing decision. Rogers does not go into detail about the length of time the trial should run, and how much of the innovation the potential adopter should be allowed to try (Rogers, 2003, p. 16; Straub, 2009, p. 631).

Good examples of trialability are diet plans. Whenever you turn on the television there are advertisements for free 30-day trials of various diet pills and most of these advertisements say the same thing – try it and you’ll love it! These trial offers could be good for someone who really wants to try the product to see whether or not they want to buy it and there is usually no obligation if they cancel by the end of their trial.

Observability[edit | edit source]

Observability is the degree to which the results of an innovation are visible to others. If potential adopters can easily see the relative advantage of the innovation, this increases the likelihood that the innovation will be adopted. If the advantages are not easily observable, then the innovation could face a slower rate of adoption (Rogers, 2003, p. 16).

An example of observability is watching someone use an iPad. After watching them sending emails, writing papers, reading books, and playing games on a device that is half the size of a laptop (and lighter), you start to want one too. This is because you see the relative advantages of the device, which is being able to do things that you could normally only do on a big heavy computer or a portable device. Plus, Apple does a good job showing off the features of an iPad in their simple, yet informative, commercials.

Question to think about… What if all of the above attributes exist, and the innovation still is not widely adopted?

Limitations[edit | edit source]

Rogers does not mention any ways that innovators can test or evaluate their innovations for negative consequences before they are released. Rogers discusses how to diffuse innovations and the attributes that they should have, but doesn’t discuss how innovators (or societies) should deal with the negative consequences of their innovations. For example, the atomic bomb was an innovation that left many negative consequences. Rogers does not discuss possible restrictions or limitations needed to reduce negative consequences and the likelihood of an innovation failing in any of the five attributes of innovations listed above.

None of these five attributes address the financial aspects of innovation. Rogers should have elaborated more on the economic factors. Innovators should take into consideration the cost to produce and implement the innovation and whether or not it is feasible for the organization. Innovators also need to carefully determine the price they are going to sell their product to consumers to ensure that it is widely diffused. This is important, because if the price is set too high then consumers are less likely to buy it. If the price is too low, then the company might lose money if the production cost is higher than the selling price. The innovation should be able to fit within the budget of the adopters that they are marketing to (Gillard, 2008, p. 21-33).

Rogers also does not discuss how the availability of innovations could affect the innovation and how it’s perceived. Is the innovation available to anyone, anywhere? Or is it going to be marketed to a particular socio-economical group, geographic area, or gender? These factors could help innovators decide what to include in an innovation. Creating an educational application for iPads might be different for a school in Texas than a school in China.

What about the “innovation gap”? People of higher socio-economic class have greater input in creating innovations than those in lower classes because they more likely to be involved in the decision-making process in organizations and have more resources to offer, such as funding. This can increase inequalities in how innovations are made. Rogers does not address this issue. This can be solved by including everyone in an organization in the innovation process.

Question to think about… Should negative consequences hinder/affect the innovator’s decision to diffuse an innovation? What are some ways the innovators could combat this?

Re-invention[edit | edit source]

Re-invention is when an innovation is changed or modified by the user in the process of adoption and implementation. One downside to re-invention is that the innovation could be used in a way that was not intended and decreases effectiveness. Another downside to re-invention is legal problems that might arise if the application of the innovation oversteps the copyright protection of another innovation. An example of re-invention being used in a good way is when teachers re-invented the iPad for use in the classroom. Teachers took a device that was created for adults and turned into an educational tool. In schools, iPads are used to access digital textbooks and content, write notes, access blogs, and as multimedia creation devices (Rogers, 2003, p. 17; Pilgrim, 2012, p. 17-18).

Questions to think about… Furby was a popular toy in the 1990s. In 2012, the product was updated for the 2012 holiday season. If a product is updated and marketed as new, is it considered an innovation or re-invention?

If an innovation was a success, do the five attributes of innovation still have to be existent in the re-invention of the innovation for it to also be successful?

Tim Brown’s Design Thinking[edit | edit source]

According to Tim Brown, innovations can be physical products, services, processes, IT-powered interactions and other human-centered activities where design thinking could make a difference. In simplest terms, innovations are ideas that are well thought out and executed. Brown also says that ideas that are truly innovative challenge the way things currently are and cause a shift in the way things are. These truly innovative ideas show people a solution to a problem that they were not aware of (Brown, 2008, p. 2; Brown, 2010, p. 35).

Brown’s idea of innovation disagrees with Rogers' because Rogers said that innovations have to be compatible with existing social norms, values, experiences, and beliefs of the potential adopters.

Question to think about… What affects do innovations that challenge the status quo have on social systems?

Design Thinking and Three Overlapping Spaces[edit | edit source]

Brown (2008) defines design thinking as an approach that infuses innovation activities with a human-centered design attitude (p. 1). Brown says that because the nature of design thinking is exploratory, there is no recipe for success and that there is not “one best way.” Brown believes that design thinking is best thought of as using the model of three overlapping spaces rather than like a step-by-step instruction manual. This model of innovation is simple and non-linear. These spaces are inspiration, ideation, and implementation (Brown, 2009, p. 16-17).

Inspiration[edit | edit source]

Inspiration is the problem that lays the foundation for the innovators to search for solutions. Even though the design process is typically not followed in a linear order, the design process begins in this space. In this space, there is usually a meeting which gives the designers the set of constraints that they are working with, like the amount of resources or the market that they need to attract. This acts like a framework for designers to use to begin the project. This meeting does not give a set of instructions or attempts to answer the question. After the meeting, the designers need to find out what the needs of the potential adopters are. A good way for designers to do this is by observing the daily life of people (Brown, 2010, p. 33-34).

Ideation[edit | edit source]

Ideation is the process of creating and testing ideas to solve the problem. After observing and doing research on the needs of the potential adopters, the designers combine and try to understand what they saw into recommendations for solutions to solve the problem. It is very important to have a group of people with different expertise and from different disciplines. This can lead to different insights and ideas being brought to the table, and opposing ideas being challenged against one another which can lead to better results (Brown, 2010, p. 34).

Implementation[edit | edit source]

Implementation is when the best ideas become action plans, physical products, and services that are tested and refined as necessary. Basically, the design team tries to fix things that they did not predict would happen and address challenges that arose. Prototyping is used to test the innovation. After prototyping, the innovation is created. After it is created, the design team designs the marketing strategy that will be used to sell the innovation (Brown, 2010, p. 35).

Projects may go through these spaces more than once as the team is searching for solutions to the problem. These are not steps, because design thinking does not occur in sequential order. Design thinking might seem hectic at first, but as time goes by, participants see that the process works (Brown, 2009, p. 16-17).

Innovators also need to keep in mind the constraints of innovating, which are feasibility. viability, and desirability. Feasibility is what is possible in the near future. Viability is whether or not the innovation is sustainable for the organization. Desirability deals with how the innovation makes sense to people and if it’s useful for people (Brown, 2009, p. 18-19).

Brown says that the main reason why people do not adopt design thinking is because they are afraid of failure. In design thinking, there is nothing wrong with experimenting or failing at something if it happens early and can be used as a learning opportunity, and that is difficult for most people to accept (Brown, 2010, p. 35). However, Brown does not mention innovations that he failed at and how he turned them into a learning opportunity.

Questions to think about… Does the system of three overlapping spaces differ for innovations that are being re-invented? If so, how?

What factors should play a role when deciding whether or not an innovation is viable?

How should failure be addressed in institutions where failure is not an option (like in education)?

Limitations[edit | edit source]

Brown’s design thinking is best viewed in the infrastructure of business. He uses business examples in his book. I came up with an idea of how his idea of three overlapping spaces could fit into education in the United States.

Inspiration in education would look like a meeting where administrators, teachers, students and other stakeholders look at the problems that need to be addressed, the constraints that they face, and the resources that they have available.

Ideation in education would look like the participants of the meeting observing the daily life of administrators, teachers, and students during the school day. Then, they take into consideration the needs of the people in the school district and come up with solutions for addressing problems and involve everyone in the decision making process. This could bring different insights and ideas and better results.

Implementation in education would be where the best ideas from the ideation stage become action plans that are tested on a small scale with teachers who have volunteered to test out the plan and it is polished before being implemented on a full scale. I think the best strategy for implementing the action plans in education is to not force it onto the teacher. Give teachers lots of training and let them adopt when they feel ready to do so.

Question to think about… How would Brown’s design thinking affect the United States social system if implemented?

References[edit | edit source]

Brown, T., & Katz, B. (2009). Change by design: how design thinking transforms organizations and inspires innovation. New York: Harper Business.

Brown, T., & Wyatt, J. (2010). Design Thinking for Social Innovation. Harvard Social Innovation, Winter 2010, 31-35. Retrieved November 28, 2012, from

Brown, Tim. Design Thinking. Harvard Business Review, 86(6), 84-92.

Gillard, S., Bailey, D., & Nolan, E. (2008). Ten Reasons for IT Educators to be Early Adopters of IT Innovations. Journal Of Information Technology Education, 721-33.

Gouws, T., & Rheede van Oudtshoorn, G. (2011). Correlation between brand longevity and the diffusion of innovations theory. Journal Of Public Affairs, 11(4), 236-242.

Hoeber, L., & Hoeber, O. (2012). Determinants of an Innovation Process: A Case Study of Technological Innovation in a Community Sport Organization. Journal Of Sport Management, 26(3), 213-223.

Hornik, R. (2004). Some Reflections on Diffusion Theory and the Role of Everett Rogers. Journal of Health Communication, 9143-148.

Pilgrim, J., Bledsoe, C., & Reily, S. (2012). New Technologies in the Classroom. Delta Kappa Gamma Bulletin, 78(4), 16-22.

Rogers, E. M. (2003). Diffusion of innovations (5th ed.). New York: Free Press.

Straub, E. (2009). Understanding Technology Adoption: Theory and Future Directions for Informal Learning . Review of Educational Research, 76, 625-64.