Decoding Tomorrow:
Futurism and Foresights Today

Foresights and ideas that expand minds and inspire a change of heart.

Law of Diffusion of Innovations: Thought Leadership and Selling Ideas

05 Mar 2012


How do you create ideas that stick? What differentiates successful innovations from unsuccessful ones? What is the best way to commercialise an idea? How do you ensure that it reaches the masses? Who are the thought leaders that you should be targetting when seeking to influence opinion leaders? How do you create critical mass in the adoption of an idea? These are questions that marketers, innovators and sociologists have been grappling with for a long time.

My belief is that an innovation, no matter how good it is, cannot be successfully adopted without social acceptance and behavioural change.

Let me explore this with you a little further and offer up a useful model in thinking about:

  • your future product launches
  • influencing key stakeholders and opinion leaders in social media
  • pitching the next change management project in your organisation
  • positioning educational program in communities
  • your own thought leadership

The model is "The law of Diffusion of Innovations" created by Everett Rogers back in 1962. A bit of true thought leadership, which has had new light thrown on it with the advent of new communications channels like social media.

Let us have a look at the model below to understand it better.

Law of Diffusion of Innovations Anders Sorman-Nilsson

On the x-axis you can spot the percentage size of 5 different types of groups in society.

  1. Innovators - 2.5%
  2. Early Adopters - 13.5%
  3. Early Majority - 34%
  4. Late Majority - 34%
  5. Laggards - 16%
On the Y-axis on the right you'll note the marketshare adoption of a new innovation.
So, Diffusion of Innovations is a theory that seeks to explain how, why, and at what rate new ideas and technology spread through cultures.
In an age of social media, when organisations are trying to position their brands amongst the masses, to pitch new technologies to early adopters, and leaders are trying to influence their teams to adopt change and new technologies in the way we work, this model is critical. 
For anyone who has ever tried their hand at selling an idea, concept or their own thought leadership, the model is equally relevant. 
Let us look more closely at the categories in this thought leadership model by Rogers.


Innovators are the first individuals to adopt an innovation. Innovators are willing to take risks, youngest in age, have the highest social class, have great financial lucidity, very social and have closest contact to scientific sources and interaction with other innovators. Risk tolerance has them adopting technologies which may ultimately fail. Financial resources help absorb these failures. (Rogers 1962 5th ed, p. 282)
What is an instance that you can identify when you, or someone close to you displayed innovative behaviours that fit this definition of innovator?

Early Adopters

This is the second fastest category of individuals who adopt an innovation. These individuals have the highest degree of opinion leadership among the other adopter categories. Early adopters are typically younger in age, have a higher social status, have more financial lucidity, advanced education, and are more socially forward than late adopters. More discrete in adoption choices than innovators. Realize judicious choice of adoption will help them maintain central communication position (Rogers 1962 5th ed, p. 283).
What is a technology that you have adopted early on, while knowing that you weren't first, but you had an edge on the mass adoption of that technology?

Early Majority

Individuals in this category adopt an innovation after a varying degree of time. This time of adoption is significantly longer than the innovators and early adopters. Early Majority tend to be slower in the adoption process, have above average social status, contact with early adopters, and seldom hold positions of opinion leadership in a system (Rogers 1962 5th ed, p. 283)
Are there instances in your life or career when you have adopted a technology, idea or innovation at the same time as the early majority? How was the instance different from the previous two adoptions that you experienced?

Late Majority

Individuals in this category will adopt an innovation after the average member of the society. These individuals approach an innovation with a high degree of skepticism and after the majority of society has adopted the innovation. Late Majority are typically skeptical about an innovation, have below average social status, very little financial lucidity, in contact with others in late majority and early majority, very little opinion leadership.
Is there someone you know who displays behaviours consistent with this description? What specific innovation are you thinking about here?


Individuals in this category are the last to adopt an innovation. Unlike some of the previous categories, individuals in this category show little to no opinion leadership. These individuals typically have an aversion to change-agents and tend to be advanced in age. Laggards typically tend to be focused on "traditions", likely to have lowest social status, lowest financial fluidity, be oldest of all other adopters, in contact with only family and close friends, very little to no opinion leadership.
What are the benefits, if any, of being a laggard? Is age a factor here, when technology and social media is re-defining the traditional concept of age?

Key Take-Aways

When selling an idea, concept or your thought leadership, consider

  • which stakeholders you need to communicate with and persuade of its merits
  • which communication channels can best influence them
  • how much time might be required to influence the influencers, and how they might in turn influence the masses
  • which social system you are selling the idea into and what cultural barriers might exist against adopting the idea

If you want to learn more about generating buy-in into your thought leadership, and how to ensure that your ideas are more easily diffused into your target market, why not consider executive thought leaders mentoring with Thinque?

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