So you have a new idea.

By | July 29, 2018

Leadership: So you have a new idea.

For many years as a leader in education, I have found myself constantly thinking of new ideas of what my school could do to improve the outcome of students or better working conditions for teachers. Some of the ideas seemed good, at least in theory, some didn’t. Some ideas worked and some didn’t. I used to focus my attention on selling the idea, marketing it in a way that would gain momentum and bring everyone on board, but what I came to realise is that it wasn’t my selling techniques that I needed to focus on, but understanding my team and how if adopting a new idea, they would get on and or remain on board.

To do this, I looked at Rogers Diffusion of Innovation Theory which helped me to put my thoughts into a framework that could help me review how my ideas gained or didn’t gain traction, and also what I could consider in the future when introducing something new.

The Diffusion of Innovation Theory (DOI) was developed by E.M. Rogers in the 1960’s and is considered one of the oldest social science theories. It’s aim is to explain how an innovation gains momentum and then spreads (diffuses) overtime within a specific population or social system. The idea of the diffusion is that people as part of a group will adopt a new innovation, something that is different to what they had already been doing. In order for this to work, generally, is that the population must perceive the innovation as something new.

When introducing something new, there will be some that accept it, some will reject it, and some will be sceptical. This tends to be natural, however, within the diffusion theory there are five established adopter categories;

  1. Innovators – These are the people that are first to try the innovation. They tend to be risk takers, willing to explore and break from the status quo. Getting them on board will not be an issue, since adopting something new is seemingly an inherent trait in them.
  2. Early adopters – These people tend to be in leadership roles, and are comfortable and willing to accept change. Although convincing them is relatively easy, providing them with information regarding the innovation helps.
  3. Early majority – Not usually in leadership roles but are willing to adopt a new innovations before the average person. What is key with these people is the evidence of success is readily available otherwise convincing them becomes difficult.
  4. Late majority – These people are skeptical of change and tend to only adopt an innovation, unless it has already been tried and tested with successful results.
  5. Laggards – In most cases, these are the people that are the more conservative of the bunch, not only skeptical of change but also not willing to break from the status quo.


So where do we go from here now that we know what the five adopter categories are? Well, as you will have read in my introduction, it’s all about knowing your team. Look back at some of what you have introduced in the past and see if some of your staff fall into these categories. If so, you at least have some awareness of who will be on board, who will not and who will need a little bit of convincing. Make sure your new idea is clear, has measurable goals and has been tried elsewhere. Prepare your evidence but also be prepared to listen to your team.

Sometimes as a leader, it’s not always about your new idea, but more so about how your team respond to it, which off course highlights the complexity of working within a non linear environment. Success lies with your team, so get them on board, share your vision and passion with them and even the most craziest of ideas could workout!

Comments, questions and feedback is always welcomed.


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