By now, most people have heard of the "Diffusion of Innovation" bell curve, first introduced by Everett Rogers in the 60s. I remember learning about in college, and it seems to still be a relevant model today. According to wikipedia:
"Diffusion of Innovations is a theory that seeks to explain how, why, and at what rate new ideas and technology spread through cultures. Everett Rogers, a professor of rural sociology, popularized the theory in his 1962 book Diffusion of Innovations. He said diffusion is the process by which an innovation is communicated through certain channels over time among the members of a social system. The origins of the diffusion of innovations theory are varied and span multiple disciplines...The book proposed 4 main elements that influence the spread of a new idea: the innovation, communication channels, time, and a social system. That is, diffusion is the process by which an innovation is communicated through certain channels over time among the members of a social system."
Here is an image of the bell curve that I got from blog.pcnsinc.com:
For a recent client program, I wanted to use the model to illustrate some points about their own innovation culture. I went searching online and compiled a bunch of information that I read about the different groups, then created this little chart (below) based on what I had been reading on the different sites, the book, and my own experience of facilitating creativity in organizations. This shows characteristics of each of the 5 main segments of the population:
I'm bringing this up because I see so many groups/work teams still trying to reach consensus and get buy-in at the front-end from everyone as they attempt to change their work culture, introduce a new innovation, or co-create/co-develop a new product or process.
Form a facilitating co-creativity perspective (whether a day-long short workshop or a long-term culture change), I have found that it is much easier and quicker if you recognize the differences, and let people join into the creative process wherever along the bell curve they are. Not only will their resistance go down, their contribution will go up. The adoption bell curve is at work whether a leader or facilitator wants it to be or not. We can learn to use the natural trajectory of this adoption process in co-creative work teams, instead of fighting it.
In facilitating a creative process, instead of trying to get everyone in a group comfortable with the "blank canvas" thinking that innovators love, let the innovators play there. Then invite in others to join along the way. That takes the pressure of those who really can't go there, and they no longer feel the need to resist - with defenses up - because they are less threatened. The early adaptors are great bridges. They help make it accessible for the majority to buy in. The early majority needs to see something tangible or in action before they will buy in. Instead of force them to dive into the unknown with the innovators, let them enter into the process as they see something already starting to form and shape You get much more creativity and collaboration out of them that way. The laggards, too, will be less vocal in their resistance if they are not forced into change up front. They may ultimately self select out the team, group or company...or they may come around later.
The key is that it is a big waste of time to try to get everyone on the same page at the beginning. Resistance, which is going to happen anyway as is natural in the creative process, skyrockets when everyone is expected to be in the same place at the same time. A new idea emerges emerges and immediately gets shot down, mostly out of fear or discomfort.
Instead, we can acknowledge that each segment has much to offer in the creative process. Just like each has a role in nature. In nature there is always that dynamic tension in the birthing process between something new wanting to emerge (expansion) and the status quo wanting to maintain (contraction). Creative breakthroughs happen in the intersection of that dynamic tension. Healthy creative birth happens by learning to work with that tension.
The same is true in organizational systems. Each role plays a part in the creative process...and that tension between the segments is part of the natural creative process. They are all correct - just incomplete. The late majority likes to organize and maintain the system in a way the innovator or early adopter would not care to do. Everyone is, of course, infinitely creative (whether they know it yet or not). Everyone can activate and unleash more of their creativity through pattern breaking with a variety of approaches and awesome practices at any time. But not everyone creates the same way, and not everyone comes to life at the same point in a group creative process. By USING the differences, we get more creativity out of a group.
If we work with how nature unfolds and creates, and appreciate the differences in pace and timing for people to jump in the ways THEY know they can best contribute (allowing them to self organize along the creative in a way they are more alive to do so), I believe we will experience an easier transition into the blank canvas of the new paradigm 21st century workplace being co-created by all of us.