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The Innovation Bell Curve

MANY PEOPLE THINK that embracing change and adopting innovation is a new thing made necessary by computers, mobile devices, Google and Facebook. Not true, says Kylie Davis from CoreLogic, the same challenges have been overcome by our predecessors.

Like most things to do with human behaviour, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Understanding how people respond to change – why some of us embrace it and others reject it – is not a new concept. The idea that people adapt to innovation differently was being researched as far back as the 1920s to 1940s, when rural sociologists began examining the success of crop farmers and their approach to innovation. With rapid changes in agricultural techniques, such as hybrid seeds and new equipment, researchers wanted to understand whether there was a correlation between the attitude of farmers 2015to embracing change and their level of success and wealth.

Not cloud technology, or mobile adoption, or learning how to use a new CRM. But crop farming. In the 1930s. Seriously.

The researchers found that farmers who were open to trying new things or who quickly adopted farming innovations made the most money. Not only that, but those slowest to embrace change were the least successful.

The work was used as part of a seminal piece of research by Everett Rogers, who went on to become one of the founding fathers of modern psychology. He created a visualisation of the data with what is now famously known as ‘Rogers’ Bell Curve of Innovation’ in his book Diffusion of Innovations in 1962. It’s been pretty much in reprints ever since, showing just how current the thinking still is.

Rogers discovered the rules that applied to innovation adoption in a cornfield played out across the general attitude towards adopting most new ideas. And this remains true today, even in real estate.

The reason I love Rogers’ innovation bell curve is because it demonstrates beautifully the experience of many principals and real estate executives whenever the topic of introducing something new to their team comes up.

‘Oh, we’re not good at change,’ I have heard. ‘Our best agents will get it, but the others will keep doing what they always do. Getting people to change is really hard.’

Well yes, getting people to change can be really hard. And confusing. Because some people adopt quickly while others lag behind. And wouldn’t it just be easier for us as managers and leaders if everyone embraced the idea immediately and did what they were told? But it’s lovely to know that we’re not the first generation to experience this.

The way I like to use Rogers’ bell curve is to understand how the group of people I am working with is likely to interpret any message about innovation. The bell curve helps you understand that not everyone is going to embrace the idea straight away. And you can virtually plot the numbers of people who fall into the different categories.

It also helps you understand how much ‘proof’ and evidence you will have to provide to ensure your audience is comfortable, and the best way to target your messaging. For Innovators, Early Adopters and Early Majority, focus on talking up the benefits. For Late Majority and Laggards, reassure about security and the lack of risk.

Innovators and Early Adopters will move fast. Expect to double or triple the time frame for others.

Rogers also identified the Five Stages of the Adoption process. I’ve personally adapted this to a rule I was taught when I first started to sell – the Three Nos to Get a Yes rule – because, as every good salesperson knows, you should never give up the first time a client tells you ‘No thanks’.

So the next time you need to introduce an innovation into your business, don’t despair. Change and innovation is not a decision, it’s a process, and you’ve got to follow the process.

Identify which categories the members of your team fall into, target your messaging and levels of assurance to the different categories and time your change so that even the laggards get over the line. And prepare for a bumper harvest.

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