Innovators are brilliant and brave – obsessed with new ideas and possessed with capabilities to take the risks to apply them. However, they often find spreading new ideas is not as easy as sharing the gift of insight and finding others will naturally follow. Frankly, true innovators are frustrated to find that their ideas do not easily translate and even can face sharp opposition. The hard truth is that the best ideas don’t always win, and even great ideas fail, because of their inability to get adopted by others.
Are you an innovator, senior leader, or a project lead responsible for implementing change? If so, summarized in these five steps are the actions that increase the odds of new ideas getting adopted. The discipline of idea adoption is a process that includes the art of storytelling, Diffusion of Innovations Theory and Organizational Change Management (OCM). When you learn them, you recognize the depth of the challenges and as you practice them, you build instincts to influence that only get better over time.
Step 1: Start with Story. Create awareness by sharing engaging content that matters to the audience. The targeted audience for your innovation is generally the protagonist of your story – the hero who you help achieve their noble goal. As the innovator, you are the sidekick in the story – the Yoda to Luke Skywalker, Ron and Hermione to Harry Potter, Donkey to Shrek. Without you and your innovation, the protagonist cannot overcome the antagonistic forces to achieve their goal. The higher the stakes, the more dramatic the story. Frame your new idea in story to create awareness and build desire in the audience, leaving them wanting more.
Step 2: Create Knowledge. A common mistake is jumping too quickly to build a deep understanding on a topic without starting with step one. This mistake happens due to perceived time constraints, lack of lead time and the curse of knowledge. The curse of knowledge is a cognitive bias where the speaker assumes the audience has the background to understand them. Remember, story frames a general awareness for the new idea and creates a space where the audience wants to learn. If the audience is not open to learning, they will reject you and the new idea. The more significant the change, the more time that needs to be spent on building awareness and desire before attempting to create knowledge.
Step 3: Drive Acceptance. Once the innovation is implemented, the job of idea adoption is not over. To be sustained it must spread and the ease or difficulty depends on the innovation’s perceived attributes, as Everett M. Rogers explains in Diffusion of Innovations (1962). The frequency with which your audience answers “yes” to these questions dictates the rate the idea spreads.
- Relative Advantage – is the new idea better?
- Compatibility – does it align with existing values and experiences?
- Complexity – is the innovation easy to understand or use?
- Trialability – can it be experienced before a decision is needed?
- Observability – can others see the results?
Step 4: Don’t Skip Reinforcement. Showcase victories – demonstrate with real examples the benefits of the innovation from those who have adopted it. Confirming the benefits of adopting the new idea is critical to those who have already adopted and especially to the late majority and laggards who have yet to come onboard with the change.
Step 5: Foster Reinvention. Reinvention is the goal of idea adoption – when the innovation is accepted to the point it is modified by the user and personalized. The good news is that when this happens, it increases the likelihood the innovation will be sustained. The bad news is that companies, brands and human behavior often resist reinvention in order to protect their idea. Ironically, when this happens, the new idea can suffocate and die instead of spread and take on new life. When original ideas are redefined and reinterpreted by adopters, they evolve over time and grow to make large impacts. Don’t fall into the trap of hanging on so tightly to protect your idea that it cannot move to and through others because in the end, isn’t that the point?
Written by: Tammy Broaddus, CEO of Overflow