Revisiting the Diffusion Roles from Inventors to Non-Adopters

The diffusion of innovation concept (see also describes the journey of an innovation from ideation to market saturation and indeed obsolescence (see also The diffusion of innovation consists of several key adoption / user roles termed innovators, early adopters, early majority, late majority and laggards (see foundational work by Rogers, E.M., 1962). Current diffusion of innovation thinking is primarily focused on product technical readiness levels (TRL - see also and the transition of inventions to innovators in the potential market. The initial role of inventor is typically not considered although it plays a key bridging role between the users encountering a challenge and the innovators who are able to create a product from a research-based proof of concept or pilot (see also

Innovators are that group of invention adopters that comprise potentially only 2% of the total adopter market and are behaviorally passionate about exploring new things. Their adoption threshold is often very small while the adoption duration is often also very short. This small market share and the general experience that product/service introductions to innovators are often accompanied by significant cost subventions which in practice also mean that this market segment is not a commercially sustainable focus. Introducing ideas to innovators is often integrated with early TRL phases and usually plays a significant role in shaping product attributes. Diffusing to innovators hence typically represents an investment. Once the innovator segment of the market has been captured sufficiently (potentially an 84% threshold aligned to the market share that all adopter categories include the late majority have), the early adopter users (who comprise perhaps 14% of the market) become the focus point of diffusion efforts.

In contrast to innovators the early adopter users are typically (in-) formal opinion leaders that primarily act as influencers sharing success stories of using the products. Early adopter users are less interested in experimentation than innovators and are usually seeking improvements and efficiency whereby engagement requires little efforts since they are open to change. Early adopter users are also often “evangelists” for change in organizations, although they are seldom in direct functions within those, rather found in the indirect areas of quality management, continuous improvement, innovation management etc. Commercially early adopters expect free or heavily subsidized commercial agreements since they are aware of the intangible value of providing “real” case studies to the inventors as part of their wider diffusion efforts. As with innovators the diffusion of innovations to early adopters is an investment and the benefit is primarily intangible through the generation of robust case studies for the early majority. Once the early adopter segment of the market has been captured sufficiently (the authors recommend starting with an 84% threshold aligned to the market share that all adopter categories include the late majority have), the early majority users (who comprise perhaps 34% of the market) become the focus point of diffusion efforts.

In contrast to innovators and early adopter users, early majority users are true followers that are open to paying commercially viable prices to the seller assuming they trust relevant reviews and experiences of early adopter users. Early majority users are open to change through innovation but require a sense of assurance through early adopter user peers and are often found in direct functions of organizations where continuous improvement plays a major role. The next adopter phase also comprises perhaps 34% of the market and is classified as the late majority adopters who are in general not particularly interested in change and usually only adopt innovations if there is a strong feeling that they must be part of mainstream changes. It is this adopter group that is the primary object of analysis for the research study.

Commercially it is the late majority adopters who drive large scale diffusion at industrial pricing dynamics and by reaching the 84% threshold of these the innovation will essentially have diffused as far into the market as can be expected (assuming it has done this fast enough to avoid losing market share due to new innovations entering the diffusion of innovation curve. The final market segment is the laggard adopters who comprise perhaps 16% of the market and require significant evidence of change benefits to consider them while then adopting these highly cautiously. There are of course also non-adopters in any potential market space, however this category is by default ignored in diffusion of innovation thinking.

In general urgency, collaborativeness, voluntarity, priority, and motivation for innovation adoption all decrease across the innovation diffusion curve, while the scope of innovation adoption increases with growing market segment size. Domain competency however typically increases across the innovation diffusion curve whereby this competency is focused on the wide-spread implementation in the market segment.

While the diffusion of innovation model suggests clearly defined adopter categories it must be remember that the boundaries between them overlap and that indeed the linear paradigm might well need to be re-interpreted as an overlapping circular model in order to not only highlight the interrelatedness and interdependency, but also that in contexts of disruptively rapid innovation diffusion the linear paradigm breaks down due to short-circuits between the invention and the late adopter users “emerging” through game changers such as urgency, funding or compliance release.

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