Which organisations are ready for change?April 27th, 2012 2 comments
We think that business as usual is not an option. But for businesses and other organisations, change can be difficult, even in the face of obvious risks and opportunities. In the coming years, threats from global economic instability, volatile fossil fuel prices and climate change will present daunting challenges for many organisations left unprepared.
In contrast, the transition to a new economic model defined by community sustainability, resilience and well being represents opportunity. Not every organisation will be ready to accept this analysis, but some will. How can you identify and begin working with those who are ready for change?
Understand how innovation spreads
Understanding how innovation occurs can help to identify where your effort and energy should be directed. Research shows, such as in the book “Diffusion of Innovation” by Everett Rogers, that social change does not happen in a linear and gradual way. It suggests instead that some people are more receptive to new ideas than others. As the new ideas become more refined or more familiar, more people become receptive. Once a critical mass is reached, suddenly the rate of diffusion explodes, becoming widely adopted in a short period of time.
This process follows a curve that describes the characteristics of different groups as they adopt the new thing, the innovation…
Innovators are the first to adopt something new, and are willing to take risks. They often have closest contact to the source of the innovation, such as scientific contacts and interaction with other innovators. They often have greater risk tolerance and are prepared to try things that may ultimately fail. Financial resources may help absorb these failures, and the ability to do so may be part of their operating model. Their process of innovation will also be more rapid than other types.
But investing your energy in targeting innovator groups and organisations is a high-risk strategy. Potential benefits are good, as innovators may be more susceptible to change, but the hit or miss nature of innovators risks using up much of a Transition Initiative’s finite resources on aspirational opportunities.
Early Adopters have the highest degree of ‘opinion leadership’ among the other types. They are more selective in their adoption choices than innovators, and realise that clever choice of adoption will help them maintain their leadership position. Organisations that fit the category of early adopters are a good focus for a TI’s energies, given their openness and possibly already acceptance of many Transition principles. The power of early adopters should never be understimated – see this really entertaining brief clip that shows this beautifully…
Early Majority organisations are slower in the adoption process, and are less likely to be opinion leaders. They will come on board as the innovation reaches a critical mass (the point at which enough have adopted it to make further adoption by others more likely). If choosing to invest time and resources in influencing early majority organisations, it’s important to be selective as this group tends to be less ready for transition thinkin, and significant change, and it needs to be first influenced by the change made by the early adopters.
The Late Majority will adopt an innovation only after the ‘average’ organisations have done so. They approach an innovation with a high degree of scepticism, and only after the majority of their peers have already adopted it. They are rarely opinion formers and so more broad-brush strategies may be suitable for targeting this group.
Laggards are the last to adopt an innovation and typically have an aversion to change. Laggards typically tend to be focused on ‘traditions’ and ‘the way things have always been done’.
An example of an innovation diffusion distribution graph. The horizontal axis represents time and the area of the curve represents adopters. From Wiki media (http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Diffusionofideas.PNG)
The Process of Innovation
Clearly, individuals and organisations on the left side of the curve, especially Innovators and Early Adopters, may be most receptive to new ideas and solutions. They may be most open to concepts of resilience, sustainability, localisation, and Transition, too, for example. So once you have identified your target organisations, it helps to understand the process that they might typically go through in taking up your ideas…
Exposure (or agenda setting) The individual/organisation may know of the innovation, but lack information and are not yet inspired to find out more information about Transition.
Persuasion (or matching to needs) There is interest in the innovation and active seeking of information/detail about transition.
Decision The individual or organisation takes the concept of Transition, weighs the advantages/disadvantages and decides whether to adopt or reject it.
Implementation (restructuring) The individual or organisation employs the Transition ideas/approach to a varying degree depending on the situation. During this stage they will determine the usefulness of the approach and may search for further information about it.
Confirmation Decision to continue using the innovation and to use (in this case) Transition ideas to their fullest potential such that Transition principles and approaches become routine over time.
In any type of organisation, it helps if we can find those individuals (champions) willing to stand behind an innovation (in our case the notion of Transition) and break through – by persuasion, authority, or example – any opposition that the innovation may cause.
Strategies to Help Transition Reach Critical Mass
We are aiming to help Transition ideas reach the point at which enough businesses have adopted them to make further adoption self-sustaining. Innovation theory suggests two possible strategies:
1. Encourage highly respected individual and/or organisations to adopt and practice Transition principles and approaches, with the aim of creating an instinctive desire to do the same amongst those who respect that individual or organisation.
2. Demonstrate Transition ideas into a group who would readily use them, and provide positive reactions and benefits (e.g. through case studies) to encourage early adopters in the business community to pick them up.
In either approach, gaining allies and enlisting champions who can lead and inspire others within their own organisation is essential in moving adoption along the curve. It’s also important to be open to where these leaders and champions may emerge in your own community.
Credits: Image source: Curve Line Domino by akeeris
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