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The Diffusion of Innovation: A Coaching Framework

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Early Adopters/Pioneers

The Early Adopters are the ones who are willing to “venture West” after the explorers map out the territory. The Early Adopters are willing to embrace or at least try out a new idea – often because in other areas they have themselves been innovators. As a result of their own past experiences, these pioneers do not need much convincing. They will try out a new idea or procedure, find its faults, assist in its improvement, and tell the world that it has great potential.

In many instances, the Early Adopters are the “make or break” folks. If they don’t support or try out the new idea, then no one else is likely to get on board the covered wagon (or train) as it “heads West.” There seem to be several different types of Early Adopters when it comes to professional coaching. First there are the funders. They pay for the wagon or train (and often the wagon master/facilitator).

While funding sources were very important during the early stages of contemporary professional coaching, there was a second cluster of men and women who were invaluable in moving this innovation to early adoption. These were the sponsors of professional coaching. Closely related to this second cluster are those women and men who actively promoted professional coaching. These promoters neither had the money (funders) nor the formal institution position of authority (sponsors) to bring about early adoption of professional coaching. However, they were like Johnny Appleseed—moving across the land planting seeds. And they are the group most likely to engage a coach themselves. They don’t just plant the seeds—they eat the apples! A third cluster of people who help move innovations to early adoption are those who bring order to the innovation and identify how best to administer these innovations. These are the early managers who take over from the often-disorganized innovators. Seymour Sarason (1972) identified the critical role played by these managers when describing the creation of new settings. He noted during the 1970s that the managers are often bringing concepts and practices from the old order into the new order (and in this way can thwart the efforts of the innovators who are particularly involved in the creation and promotion of new processes rather than new products or customer services). His insightful analysis seems to still hold true.

What about those who coach these Early Adopters? First, as in the case of the innovators, the Early Adopters are often enamored with ideas. They are inclined to move forward without sufficient information and not a clear set of intentions. They will try out any new idea and are the innovators’ best friend with regard to taking a risk. As a coach to these Early Adopters, we often must become realists, encouraging them to do a little more data gathering before devoting themselves to a new idea. As coaches we also are likely to find ourselves in the business of clarifying the reason(s) for taking on a new idea. The Early Adopters are often overwhelmed with new projects and often are not very disciplined in their allocation of time and resources. They need to clarify their intentions and set priorities—this is where the organizational coach can be of greatest assistance.

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2 Comments

  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.

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  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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