Wednesday, July 16, 2008

How do new ideas spread?

I've recently been studying how we change the way that we develop software. This links in with the broader question of how innovations spread. The best-known book on this is Geoffrey Moore's Crossing the Chasm, which explores the obstacles faced by high-tech innovation.

Crossing the Chasm is an influential and readable book, generous in its acknowledgements and full of good stories, but it has no bibliography. For sixteen years I've been looking for the book that introduced the technology life cycle. Moore refers to it but never names it.

I think I've found it in Diffusion of Innovations, by Everett M. Rogers. It's now in its fifth edition. Its examples are extensive and compelling, and it has an extensive bibliography. Best of all, it includes a checklist of the key attributes of innovations. Rogers calls them
  1. Relative advantage
  2. Compatibility
  3. Complexity
  4. Trialability and
  5. Observability
These perceptions largely determine the rate at which we adopt an innovation, so anyone in the business of change needs to study them carefully.

Diffusion of Innovations is a scholarly work, and needs more time to read than Crossing the Chasm. For me that time has been well-spent.

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