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Success of Innovation & Role of Early Adopters

Have you heard of Everett Rogers’ Diffusion of Innovations? If not, here it is:

Diffusion of Innovation

Diffusion of Innovation (Ref: Wikimedia )

What Diffusion of Innovation depicts : If you introduce a concept or product to public/market, it gets dispersed through different society/cultures at different pace by different category of users.

User category Characteristics


They are the first ones to embrace new idea/innovation:

  • Highest social class, Known risk takers, clear financial appetite
  • Known for social nature & closeness other innovators

Early Adopters


They are next category of quickest adopter of the idea/innovation:

  • Opinion leader, Socially forward, Advanced education, better financial stability
  • Make careful selection of innovation to retain their opinion leadership status
Early Majority


This set of users adopts idea/solution in slower pace compared to ‘Early Adopter’:

  • Above avg social class, Are in contact circles of early adopters
  • Rarely known for opinion leadership.

Late Majority


These users accept an idea only after it is accepted by average man in the society

  • Skeptical of accepting new idea, less risk appetite, lesser financial stability
  • Are below average social class, not considered as opinion leader


This category of users is the most late to adopt an idea/innovation.

  • Resistant to change, Holding tightly to traditional things
  • Later stage of lifecycle (older in age), Very little socializing quotient
  • Have lowest social status, Lowest financial stability


This principle is applicable to majority of technological products, new processes/concepts albeit with variations in respect of: duration of acceptance & percentage of users in each category.

What made me think of this theory: It is the way Agile Methodology of project management has been adopted in large part of industries (IT – considerably) and for last few years, I have experienced so many companies which are trying their own flavor with agile methodology. I remember, back in early 2000: when Agile Project Management methodology was being discussed in the context of Software development. Extreme Programming (XP) was the only variation of Agile Project Management, I had heard of. By then, significant number of people I was talking to, were not even aware of it; those who had heard of, many were resisting the concept.

The point here is not to propose that Agile is the one best fit for all of your project management practices; of course not ! Though it is apparent that the Early Majority & Late Majority are the ones who defines whether a given concept is widely accepted or not; it is ‘Innovators & Early Adopters’ who decides the basis for acceptance & the pace depends on how these two categories of users ‘Innovator & Early Adopters’ formulate their opinion, evangelize and spread the word.

I cannot resist but to draw an analogy with a video – rather a funny video, which is now well known for its ‘Leadership Lessons’. The video is about the lone dancer who gets a company of a fellow (first follower); both of them, in turn are joined by one more fellow dancer (second follower). As this trio is seen dancing by the mob around them, people from the mob starts participating in groups and this participation from group of people becomes a community movement.

1.The lone dancer is a leader, indeed. It takes guts to stand out from the crowd and be the initiator, since at first sight it may look silly. Point for us to draw here is, how the initiator should make it simple & easy for others to get along with him (if not ‘following’ him).

2.The role of first follower is the critical – he has guts to accompany a lone dancer. to the mob, he shows, how to participate. You can see that the lone dancer acknowledge him & treat him in equality. This encourages the first follower to influence his circles. The lone dance, thus inspire him to invite his friends too.

3.The second fellow who joins above two, reinforce the presumption that the idea is great to follow. He sets a clear path (as an opinion leader) for the early adopters in the mob to start following the trio. As early adopters joins in, it becomes a custom/social status to join the movement hence the majority of the public around them joins in. Still you will find set of people who are just watching the dancing mob & reluctant to join them. In this case, they can be considered as laggard.

4.In some discussion with reference to this video, it has been argued whether the first follower is the most important or second follower is the most important for the success of the movement. In my opinion, the trio – [Initiator (Guy #1), the first follower (Guy #2) and the second follower (Guy #3)] itself is the most important part of the movement. The trio represent a symbol of leadership for rest of the mob.

Similarly, while managing a project, you may have innovative ideas to get the things done; you may have to establish a new process; enable a change. You will realize the importance of innovator & early adopter in such case. You have an advantage if you have a choice to invite innovators & early adopters. As they are going to spread the words, build an opinion of new process/change such as ‘Life is great as I am working with new process, why don’t you join in?’, you will have to build good relationship with them, treat them equally/carefully & provide incentive to join early !

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I am a co-founder of Zilicus Solution and I write about project management, collaboration, productivity, project management software, cloud computing, requirement management and business empowerment.