Home Marketing Best Practices The Diffusion of Innovation: A Coaching Framework

The Diffusion of Innovation: A Coaching Framework

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There is a second cluster of innovators. These are the practice-leaders—who have innovated not primarily with new ideas, but rather with new programs or new strategies for change. They are the first to offer a training program in the use of a new technology (or the first to fund an organizational coaching program!) They are the first to embrace a new production process or the first to install a new harassment policy in their division. Like their fellow innovators who produce a new idea or product, these practice-leader innovators are rarely received (at least initially) with enthusiastic support and their new programs and strategies often meet with failure. They feel out of step with everyone else and wonder if they really belong in this hostile organizational setting.

How might a professional coach best address the needs of the Innovator/Explorer? First, we know that all learning and new ideas emerge within a threshold between profound challenge and substantial support. On the one hand, if there is a great deal of support and not much of a challenge, then the person dwelling in the threshold is unlikely to find much of a motivation to take a chance. He might remain contented in the threshold or is more likely to grow bored and return to home. This is rarely the condition being faced by the Innovator/Explorer. It is much more likely that there is too much challenge and not enough support. If there is nothing but challenge, then the anxiety can be overwhelming and the person dwelling in the threshold is overwhelmed with anxiety and the desire (perhaps need) to survive; “The wilderness is too much for me. I’m being attacked on all sides.” What is the response to this challenging condition? Sometimes it is counter-attack: “I will have to spend all my time and energy fighting off the attackers.” This is the response, as the old saying goes, when someone spends all their time fighting off alligators and soon forgets that they were sent there to clear out the swamp. A second response is also common. This is the flight (rather than fight) response: “I need to get out of here!” Or there is the freeze response: “I won’t survive unless I sit absolutely still and maybe they won’t see me.”

Under these challenging (and often overwhelming) conditions, a primary role to be played by a coach is the provision of sufficient support to counter the challenge. This doesn’t mean taking over from the Innovator/Explorer: the coach can’t take on the Innovator/Explorer challenge; however, it does mean the coach can provide assurance, can point out where small successes have already been achieved, and can help her client craft a strategy for something more than just survival.

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  1. Gary B Cohen

    November 24, 2011 at 12:02 am

    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.


  2. Anonymous

    November 30, 2011 at 12:49 pm

    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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