The Diffusion of Innovation: A Coaching Framework

William Bergquist November 2, 2011 2
The Diffusion of Innovation: A Coaching Framework

For the past half century, a model of innovation diffusion, offered by Everett Rogers (1962), has guided the thinking and perspectives of many people who are involved in change initiatives of all kinds (ranging from water purification systems to the distribution and use of contraceptive devices to the introduction of new digital technologies in a “flat world”). While popular with certain people, the diffusion of innovation model and research, ironically, has not itself diffused very successfully—until Malcolm Gladwell’s Tipping Point (Gladwell, 2000) was published (offering a somewhat condensed and some would say distorted version of Rogers’ diffusion model). I propose to do some diffusion of Rogers’ model (hopefully without major distortion) by applying it in a preliminary way to the ways in which a professional coach might assist her client. I will also borrow from the work of Sally Kuhlenschmidt (2010) who provided an insightful metaphor regarding diffusion in an edited book on faculty development (Gillespie, Robertson and Associates, 2010).

The Innovators/Explorers

These are the men and women who boldly go where no one has gone before (to borrow from the intro to “Star Trek”). These are the brave (and sometimes foolish and often impractical) people inside (and often outside) organizations who declare that they are going to be the first to venture out into the wilderness, bringing only the bare essentials to stay alive. They usually haven’t gathered much information about the terrain into which they are going to travel and often are not really clear about why they are moving out into the wilderness or what they expect to find when they get “out there.”

I would suggest that there are several kinds of innovators/explorers. The first cluster consists of the “idea people.” They produce new ideas that seem to come “out of the blue.” Second, there are those who produce new combinations of old ideas. Third, there are those innovators who bring an old idea over from one field or discipline to another field or discipline. In each of these instances, the Innovator/Explorer is likely to experience a high rate of failure. Either the idea doesn’t work or there is great resistance to the idea and it is never accepted. At the extreme this new idea will produce a paradigmatic revolution that threatens to alter the very way in which we view our world.

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2 Comments on "The Diffusion of Innovation: A Coaching Framework"

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Gary B Cohen
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William great insight I reposted your article on Board of School Superintendents website and CO2 Partners. I found it interesting how you connected the way each stage of diffusion of innovation shows up differently for a coach. I certainly have found this to be true just never connected with innovators model. Great stuff. Thank you for sharing.

Anonymous
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Gary: Thank you for your appreciative comments. I hope your School Superintendent colleagues find this to be of value. Obviously, the dynamics associated with the diffusion of educational innovations in our school systems are critical and coaching can be of great value to these hardworking superintendents. Bill Bergquist

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