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Innovation Diffusion -
Looking at the Process of Change

Imagination is more important than knowledge.
- Albert Einstein

Inner-Directedness VS Outer-Directedness

An estimated 10-20% of American society are naturally curious, self-motivated, "early adapters". Such persons seek new experiences and like to explore. An early adapter is inner-directed; motivated by an innate curiosity, and is likely to be among the first to try anything new, often for the fun of it.

The majority of our society, however, is outer-directed; motivated primarily through the direction of others. These folks generally wait to try something new until they’ve seen others do something for long enough they feel its safe, and accepted, for them to try it too. These are "middle and late adapters" and represent 80% of society and will tell you "playing it safe" is just common sense, and they would be correct.

While early adapters will learn and explore on their own, middle and late adapters will wait until they receive clues that the social majority is supportive of such activity.  Advocating change in the behavior status quo is typically met with resistance, something early adapters are very familiar with.

Another way to look at any society facing change is by looking at three distinct personalities. There are drivers (early adapters), who drive new innovations and thinking. There are the riders (middle adapters) who will eventually ride along with new trends. And there are always the draggers (late adapters) who are still grousing about using wordprocessing and the fax machine.

Together, these three main groups create a bell curve of innovation diffusion. The amount of time it takes for an innovation to diffuse across society can vary based on many factors. Widespread use of the telephone took 25 years, fifteen years for personal computers, seven years for widespread use of the fax machine, and five years for widespread use of the World Wide Web.

The most effective means of motivating other-directed personalities (middle to late adapters) to accept new thinking and change is by "Tom Sawyerism," demonstrating satisfaction from tangible benefits without direct advocacy.

You might know the story, by Mark Twain, where Tom is whitewashing a fence and specifically avoids asking his friends for help while making it look like he’s having a great time. Eventually his friends convince him to accept items in trade in return for his letting them in on the fun. Tom knew better than to be direct, he instead showcased the benefits for all to see.

While in this case Tom really didn’t want to be whitewashing the fence, and succeeded in enticing his friends to do his work for him, the point here is that often indirect advocacy through showcasing the benefits is more effective than preaching about the benefits. Strategies will be required, not to tell folks what they should be doing, but to unobtrusively lead them to the discovery of what they can do for themselves. (Tom Sawyerism)

Despite all the reasons one might give for not using Internet, it is common for a complete shift of perception to occur once direct hands-on benefits have been realized. The pattern for this dramatic attitude shift comes when something of person value or interest is obtained via Internet that would not have otherwise been available. One elderly citizen absolutely refused to have anything to do with computers and the Internet, until someone showed him all the stock car information available. Well, stock cars were a personal hobby, and it wasn’t long before the Internet was A-OK, as a resource for stock car information, anyway. We each need to take it one-step-at-a-time!

Below are four stages of internalization which fit the pattern of acceptance of any innovation. These stages can be helpful in understanding the behavior of others, particularly when comparing the attitudes of adults vs youth when faced with the limitless potential of computers and Internet.

Four Stages of Internalization of Innovation

Dealing with diversity of cultural and technical backgrounds can make Internet acceptance more challenging.

Consider these four identifiable stages specifically regarding internalizing the potential of Internet use and collaboration:

* Awareness/Uncertainty

* Insight/Adoption

* Internalization/Adaptation

* Enlightened Expectations

1. Awareness/Uncertainty

At this first stage people often experience acute self-doubt and self-deprecation as to whether they will be able to master the basic computer, Internet, typing, and written skills. A very shallow understanding of the potential benefits is common at this stage, though there is the general impression that there are advantages.

For the individual at the "uncertainty" stage, it is important to keep the instructional tasks very simple with short step-by-step, mastery learning format such that there is no failure, only success. Easily obtainable objectives are necessary to build confidence, as well as encouraging messages whenever possible. Technofear, and related ego-protecting excuses, are strongest at this stage. Upon proving to themselves they CAN communicate online, there is often a surge of optimism and confidence.

2. Insight/Adoption

At the "insight" phase people accept that telecommunications skills are not beyond reach and begin to see an increasing number of ways to benefit. They "adopt" use of the Internet and begin to gain a broader of idea of what it has to offer them. Self-confidence begins to build through hands-on experience.

3. Internalization/Adaptation

The "internalization" stage is achieved through regular use when people begin to view the online skills as merely an extension of one's self. Use of Internet begins to be adapted to meet personal needs in an increasing number of ways. At this point "being online" is no more threatening than making a voice telephone call. Usage falls into a pattern of purposeful use and becomes "transparent."

4. Enlightened Expectations

The fourth stage, "enlightened expectations," begins after people internalize the online experience and become regular, even casual users. There is a growing acceptance that the Internet has even greater potential benefits. At this stage excitement begins to generate as the real potential of Internet use begins to percolate deep down in the person's consciousness and serious questions as to what else might be possible begin to arise.

At this stage people begin to make an internal commitment to pursue their full potential for new uses of the Internet. This may be a year or more after initially going online. Willingness to serve as an online resource person, to tutor others online, or even to teach others online, are indications one has arrived at this "enlightened" stage. Imagining new original uses begins to occur.

Youth today are the key change agents and technology leaders

Computers and Internet appear to be significantly more motivating to youth than for adults. While most adults will tend to resist learning new things about computers and Internet, the opposite appears to be true with youth. While adults are often intimidated and feel stupid when frustrated with computers, youth tend to love to have the control to explore and learn new things. Adults need to relearn how "playing to learn" is as important as it is fun.

With most leadership positions held by adults, many of whom actively resist learning to use computers and Internet, early adapters, both young and old, are faced in considerable challenges when they attempt to "lend their wings to others." This type of tension will be part of any community network initiative.

Common Sense and the Process of Innovation Diffusion
Retaining the best of the old and the new.

Traditional education has been historically slow to change, as have rural communities. In the past, many have taken pride in their dedication to traditional ways of doing things, but today, this attitude can bear an unwelcome heavy price. It’s a fact, that with technology changing with accelerating speed, our society is changing faster all the time as a direct result.

Learning new things is now a necessary survival skill. Using Internet, self-directed learners have obtained a level of self-control and self-motivation that allows them to move forward, where others fear to tread. At issue in our communities, faced with accelerating change, is how can we best teach Self-Directed-Learning (SDL) as an increasingly essential skill, and how can we best model it in our own lives?

Internet and SDL hold the potential to deliver the best instruction, in content and context, to the most people possible, at the least cost.  However, if those at the other end lack the intrinsic motivation to utilize such resources for their own benefit, or for the benefit of their families or cultures, then what can be done? Various forms of mentorship, and role models, will likely be needed to provide the motivation required when it is lacking.

Family-based mastery learning makes sense as we can’t afford to leave anyone behind.

A lecture on the benefits of email is not as effective as receiving a first email response from a message sent to a family member. A lecture on Internet search engines is not as effective as a first successful search and printed resource, particularly concerning specific helpful information regarding family health or genealogy.

A constructivist approach in creating self-discovery opportunities that
increase self-motivation, which in turn leads to becoming a self-directed
learner, led by one's own natural interests and curiosity, is today
considered superior teaching.

For more articulation of these themes go to http://lone-eagles.com/articles/build.htm