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Diffusion of Innovations

Book Review-Diffusion of Innovations

In San Francisco at SPTechCon, I slipped into a session Bill English was doing and he mentioned a book, Diffusion of Innovations. The context was that Bill was talking about where the groups innovators, early adopters, early majority, late majority, and laggards came from. Since in my work I spend a non-trivial amount of time getting folks to get value out of SharePoint and that means driving adoption (and engagement), I was curious as to the research roots of how innovations diffuse throughout a system (an organization.)

The book is at its heart an academic book and that means not only it’s more expensive but it’s also a bit drier than your typical business reading. However, what it lacks in engagement it makes up for in depth. In short, if you’re looking to be engaged and entertained this isn’t the book for you – but if you’re really interested in getting to the heart of diffusion, you may want to pick it up. With that disclaimer out of the way, what insight does the book offer? It offers quite a bit – more than makes sense for a blog post by a wide margin, but here are some highlights.

What is Innovation?

Before we can talk about how innovations diffuse through a system it’s important to define innovation. The book defines it like this:

An innovation is an idea, practice, or object that is perceived as new by an individual or other unit of adoption. It matters little, so far as human behavior is concerned, whether or not an idea is “objectively” new as measured by the lapse of time since its first use or discovery. The perceived newness of the idea for the individual determines his or her reaction to it. If an idea seems new to the individual, it is an innovation.

Knowledge, Attitudes, and Practices (KAP)

One of the traditional models of diffusion has been a model of Knowledge, Attitudes, and Practices – abbreviated as KAP. The model has been used for many years in terms of the ability to drive innovation – often religion – into third world countries. Because of the volume of its use and its simplicity, we’ll start by explaining the diffusion of innovations through this lens.

One of the interesting things that seems to happen when you deploy to SharePoint to an organization is that everyone that learns about SharePoint doesn’t immediately start to adopt SharePoint. This seems obvious but also curious. If all that’s missing is for someone to realize that their life would be better if they stopped chasing emails and attachments and simply filed things into SharePoint – then why aren’t they doing that? I’ve already mentioned the impact of habits in my book reviews of Switch and The Happiness Hypothesis, but there’s more to it than that.

Knowledge is most easily achieved by mass media. You buy a commercial, get promoted on a popular TV show, or some other way communicate the message to a large number of folks. Guerilla Marketing offered up Thomas Smith’s writing from 1885 which says that a typical buyer need 20 times of seeing something before he’ll buy (and gets pretty frustrated in the middle because he’s seeing it so much.) While Diffusion of Innovation and Frank Bass’ Prediction (Diffusion) Model might argue that there are better ways to communicate – the concept that it takes many exposures to the message in order to just create knowledge. If we go back to Bloom’s Taxonomy of Educational Objectives we’ll find that the lowest rung of educational objectives is remembering. Remembering is recognition first (I’ve seen this before) and recall (I can remember it on command). Just above that in the taxonomy is Understanding then Application and so on. Understanding and Application are about integrating our understanding of the knowledge so that it’s connected to and used by other parts of our thinking.

We can drive repetition all day long. We can so ingrain the knowledge that it can be repeated mindlessly, however, this won’t necessarily change how we feel about something. Consider for instance the very popular advertising campaign of Wendys from several years back. The key tagline was “Where’s the beef?” You can still see this tagline occasionally on t-shirts and it will still randomly come up in conversation. Although the marketing campaign was a success for Wendys, they drove many more people to know about their claim that they had more beef than they actually changed attitudes for – or got to come to their restaurants. In short, gaining knowledge isn’t enough. It’s just the first step. The next step, changing attitudes isn’t as easy as repetition.

Attitudes – or how someone feels about the innovation is more difficult. Where knowledge can be produced through mass communication, changing attitudes is necessarily a social proposition. A person’s attitudes are swayed by those they trust. Most folks intuitively recognize that they cannot be an expert on every topic. They don’t have time to learn all there is to know about something. The Paradox of Choice keenly pointed out that the more that we are confronted with choices (say on what things to learn) the less able we are to make good decisions. Instead we use proxies for our knowledge. That is we trust others to help us understand the implications without knowing the details. Attitudes are an abstraction for the detailed knowledge of the innovation and the systems or norms that it interacts with. They are in effect a schema for how things are – ala Efficiency in Learning. Attitudes are very difficult to influence with mass media. There are numerous marketing tricks like showing you happy, seemingly successful people using the product – however, they’re generally speaking not very effective at pushing you to the real goal – changing your practices.

Practices is really using the innovation. That’s the goal of the whole thing – to use the practices to take advantage of the innovation. If we’re working on family planning methods then our goal may be to encourage the use of contraceptives (or abstinence). In program after program, in study after study, the folks that believe the innovation will be helpful far outstrips the number of people who actually do it. We all know that eating healthy and exercise is good for us, few of us actually do both of these consistently.

One analogy that may be helpful is used all the time in sales circles. That is the concept of a sales funnel. That is at the top of the funnel there are incoming (or outgoing) leads. The bottom of the funnel ends with actual sales. The way that people break the funnel up in between differs a bit from situation to situation but in general leads are converted to prospects. Prospects are further refined into opportunities and the opportunities either result in a sale – or not. The inherent idea in the funnel is that each step of the process loses some of the folks. You start with more leads than you end up with in Sales. When doing email marketing a good “rule of thumb” is that you’ll get about 10% of your messages opened and then you’ll get action out of about 10% of the folks that opened the message – A net result of 1% of the people that you send an email to will take action. These aren’t bad guidelines, they set your expectations pretty well.

In innovation terms, many will know about the innovation, fewer will believe that the innovation is valuable, fewer still will do something about it. The diffusion of the innovation relies upon multiple overlapping interactions with the intended system – until the 1% taking a response starts to drive others in the system to change their behavior – then that group encourages more change and so on.

Five Stages of the Innovation Decision Process

At the heart of diffusion of an innovation is having a person or organization decide to adopt the innovation. The book outlines five stages of the innovation decision process. This is an expansion of sorts of the KAP model above as it applies checkpoints to the process where the KAP model is a rather fluid model where one flows into the next with less of a clear distinction. Here are the five stages:

  • Knowledge – The person or organization learns about the innovation.
  • Persuasion – The person or organization is persuaded to use the innovation.
  • Decision – The person or organization makes a decision (or commitment) to implement the innovation.
  • Implementation – The person or organization actually implements the innovation (this is where they start to practice the innovation).
  • Confirmation – During the confirmation period the person or organization is susceptible to rejection of the innovation if they don’t see results or even if there are substantial other forces saying that the innovation isn’t good for them.

The key difference between the stages and the KAP model are that this model is, as stated above the more milestone based view, but also it redefines the boundaries. In the KAP model the Attitude portion includes both the persuasion of the party as well as the decision – or part of it. The other half of the decision is covered in practice. Here, persuasion, decision, and implementation are three separate stages. In many implementations I see that both a decision is never made formally and explicitly and as a result the implementation gets sideways. By calling out the decision as a stage it’s given importance to reach a decision to adopt. Said differently, we get a commitment to the innovation.

Innovation Rejection

The final stage of the five stages – confirmation – is an addition when compared to the KAP model. It’s recognizes that it’s possible for a person or organization who has previously accepted an innovation can reject it. We’re familiar with the idea that folks can reject an innovation when it’s presented. In fact, everyone initially rejects an innovation because they don’t have enough knowledge, they don’t have the right attitude, or they’re not ready.

The difference with the confirmation stage is that it’s talking about rejection – after someone has adopted. This is the period of time immediately after the decision (and optionally the implementation) when the person or organization is open to reversing their decision. For some this is very short and others this can last for years. The idea is that even though they committed to implementing the innovation – they didn’t commit to the long term use of the innovation. We’ve all seen this in large organizations where new approaches are implemented and then quickly pulled when it’s discovered that they don’t fit the organization. There are two key things that can swing folks back over to rejecting an innovation. First is negative experience – that is they don’t see the results they want or they see a serious unintended consequence. They can also get this via proxy through others and make the decision to reject because of a trusted person who reports they had a bad experience.

Once the confirmation phase is over, an innovation will still eventually get rejected. Generally this is either because it was replaced with a better innovation or because they no longer see the benefit of the innovation – whether it’s present or not.

The Law of Unintended Consequences

One of the reasons folks discontinue an innovation is because it leads to unintended consequences. The book is careful to point out that unintended and unwanted consequences are going to happen. While it’s possible to predict the function of an innovation – what it does – it’s nearly impossible to predict what meaning it will have for an organization. The book talks about steel axes given to an aboriginal tribe, the war on mosquitoes with DDT, but I think that for me a more poignant example is the impacts we’ve had with our Engineering feats. Take for instance, the impact of damns on fish. We were building damns for great reasons, water conservation, erosion control, hydroelectric power generation, etc., however, we weren’t able to see the impact this would have on fish. The good news is we discovered that we could create fish ladders to work around this environmental impact. Similarly and more tragically, science and engineering improved the strength and design of bridges until the point where a variable that was ignored – aerodynamic effect – became a catastrophic failure in the Tacoma narrows bridge.

Innovators need to be vigilant in observations to seek to discover what the unintended consequences of an innovation may be. Only by being vigilant can the impact of these unintended consequences be minimized and rejection of the innovation be minimized.

Fatigue

In one way even the failure to adopt an innovation can have an unintended consequence. Innovation diffusion requires the use of the trust built up in an organizations leadership – both formal and informal leadership – this trust can be damaged by either attempting too many innovations at once or by rapidly trying innovations and discontinuing or abandoning them (i.e. rejecting them). In both cases the trust built up in the leaders is eroded and the result is fatigue. With fatigue there is a built up resistance to new innovations. The hurdle to cross in order for folks to believe that the innovation is valuable to them gets higher. (If you’re looking for ideas for rebuilding trust see Trust & Betrayal in the Workplace.)

So the more that you push – or the more you try and fail – the harder it becomes to succeed in the future. In other words, you need to choose your innovations carefully – no how valuable they are you’ll want to focus your efforts on the innovations that you can adopt – rather than those that are the most potentially valuable.

Packaging

Strangely, innovations are difficult to diffuse individually; they diffuse much better as a package. So while you should only promote those innovations that will succeed – you may want to promote several innovations – but as a single package of innovations. The research data isn’t clear as to why innovations diffuse better as a package – however, my belief is that for an innovation to diffuse through a system it needs to be perceived as valuable. Some folks may see value in innovation A, others in innovation B. However, when packaged as a bundle of AB they’ll see enough value in their “favorite” innovation to support implementing both.

This is similar to the advice I gave Ruven Gotz during a conversation several years ago at SPTechCon, which is that I sometimes hang entire Intranet projects on a single (or a few) bright spots where the return on investment (ROI) is clear. We implement the whole intranet to get solutions for one, two, or a few departments. Everyone gets the benefit of the entire deployment but we hang the whole thing on the ROI for just a few folks. We’re in effect bundling a set of innovations related to how the organization communicates and collaborates and pay for it with one area.

What is in it for me?

The trick with packaging is that packaging addresses one of the key issues with any innovation; it allows the person or organization to answer for themselves – What’s in this for me? I(and others) often jokingly call this a radio station — WIII-FM with the tag line “All me all the time.” For all of our enlightenment we all still process change, innovation, and opportunities from the perspective of what is in it for me. There’s no shame in trying to translate something into the local impact – even if the local impact is personal.

When we talk about benefits of an innovation we often tend to respond in terms of the system benefits. The company will save more money. We’ll save the planet (with recycling.) We’ll protect the country. All of these are system benefits. An individual has to personalize this. That’s one reason I encourage communication about a new intranet from the perspective of “Don’t stay late at work any longer.” Or “Reduce your stress – find what you’re looking for.” Messages like this are inherently personal and are designed to speak to a person’s individual impact.

Motivation 3.0

Don’t forget that fundamentally information workers aren’t motivated as Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs suggests. Nor do they get motivated by any shiny objects as Frederick Herzberg points out in his classic Harvard Business Review article “One More Time: How Do You Motivate Employees?” (@ HBR). Daniel Pink’s book Drive makes the compelling point that folks need autonomy, mastery, and purpose to be motivated. If you can consider how your message fits on these three key scales you’ll likely find a way to resonate. In most cases the messages that we send towards innovation doesn’t work because we’re so focused on the system benefits – we’ve forgotten how to motivate each person individually.

Blame the system

Just as we sometimes describe an innovation’s benefit in system terms, we sometimes inhibit innovation in a system by deciding to blame the individuals in the system instead of blaming the system itself. The example provided in the book is the use of seat belts. When the problem is framed from the perspective of “idiots behind the wheel” there’s little room to change the safety of vehicles. When the problem is redefined as a systemic problem it makes it possible to improve car safety and dramatically change the results.

If you’re looking at a problem from the perspective of “those dumb users” you might want to consider who “those dumb users” are doing what they’re doing. This is at the heart of my recommendation from the 9 Keys to SharePoint Success for “right defaults.” You may find Bonds That Make Us Free illustrative from the perspective of blaming others doesn’t really work all that well. My review of Leadership and Self Deception brings the idea that blaming others doesn’t work well.

Environmental Factors Influencing the Rate of Diffusion

As we’ll see shortly, there are lots of factors about an innovation itself that can impact its diffusion; there are systemic factors that impact the diffusion of an innovation. The book itself doesn’t call out a specific list of these factors, I’ve compiled them from my notes – and somewhat through tying concepts in the book to other concepts. Here are the key environmental factors impacting the diffusion of an innovation:

Urgency

As John Kotter points out in Leading Change and in The Heart of Change urgency is a key ingredient in changing an organization. You need to have an urgent need – or a perceived urgent need to drive change in an organization. Similarly if you want an organization to diffuse an innovation quickly, make that innovation essential to their survival. Clearly not every innovation will be critical to survival of the organization, however, the greater that the organization has a sense of urgency about the need to change – the need to improve or do better – the more open the organization will be to innovations and thus the diffusion rate for the innovation will be greater.

Trust

I’ve talked about trust (and how to build it) as a part of my book reviews for Building Trust: In Business, Politics, Relationships, and Life and Trust & Betrayal in the Workplace. Trust is the lubrication that makes an organization work. In simple terms consider this truth: “The greater the amount of trust, the easier that all things happen – including the diffusion of an innovation.” If an organization suffers from low-trust even the most powerful innovation may be impossible to implement because the organizations members won’t trust that the innovation is really valuable. Building trust in an organization is possible – but it’s a seriously long term endeavor.

Similarity of the Parts

The degree to which an organization is composed of likeminded individuals impacts the diffusion of the innovation. Organizations with a large number of likeminded individuals are slow to consider an innovation but once the innovation has started the benefit of improved communication between likeminded individuals will spread the news like wildfire. Homophily is the similarity of individuals and heterophily is the dissimilarity of individuals in a system. Heterophily increases the probability that someone will introduce an innovation to the group. However, Heterophily decreases the ability of communication to flow freely. We communicate best with those folks who we have the most in common with. So the more a group is similar the steeper the pickup curve will be – and the less likely that they’ll take the innovation in the first place.

Strangers, Leaders, Change Agents, and Champions

Strangers are outsiders to the system. They’re connected to the system, but in a peripheral way. I’ve been a stranger most of my professional career. As a consultant I’ve been connected to the organizations I work for – but never really a part of their organization. Strangers are uniquely capable of sparking or infecting an organization with an innovation. Because consultants see different ways that organizations do things they can often bring the innovations from one organization to another. Strangers see the system differently because they’re disconnected and that difference in perspective is often useful in terms of identifying opportunities for growth.

The necessity of leaders to be able to lead change may seem obvious but there’s a dearth of leadership in most organizations. Both Heroic Leadership and The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People speak of the relative absence of strong leadership. Leadership isn’t just leadership from the top of the organizational ladder – but also non-positional leadership. Leaders are more keenly driven to make the organization better for the members of the organization and more keenly attuned to the organizations needs and therefore they more clearly see the benefits of innovations. It’s important to say that a leader will not, by themselves, be able to diffuse an innovation inside of an organization. I often hear “If I could just get executive management to support the initiative I’d be done.” While this would be helpful, it’s not a solution. Edicts from on-high about using an innovation are great for a while but “on-high” will be off to another thing soon – and the organization knows it.

Change agents are professionals who are tasked with bringing change to the organization. In terms of IT projects, these are typically the business analysts who are closest to the business – and may have come from the business. While they’re collecting information on how the business operates and trying to work with the business to solve problems, they’re also trying to push back into the business innovations that will help improve performance. The greater the homophily between the change agent and the users the greater their potential effectiveness, therefore an organization that recognizes that change agents need to be recruited from the business will be more successful at change than one which centralizes the change agents.

Champions are unpaid change agents – that is they realize the power of the innovation and voluntarily seek to expand the use in the organization. This is the model customer, the outspoken proponent, or just “that gal” that is always helping others. Champions can lubricate the system so that the innovation gains widespread adoption sooner. Some organizations have developed a culture for champions and finding them is easy. In other organizations they’ve been forced into hiding and a serious manhunt must be employed to find them.

Culture

Most corporate cultures belong in a petri dish. You’re likely to hear me say this the first time culture comes up in a presentation because I believe it. Most of our corporate cultures are profoundly ill. We don’t value people trying things and failing. It’s ok to take a risk as long as it’s not risky. It’s OK to be honest as long as no one’s feelings are hurt. It’s OK to improve corporate profits and organizational health, as long as you don’t lose any employees in the process. The more ill a corporation’s culture is the less likely it is that an innovation will succeed – that any innovation will succeed. You won’t heal your culture to make innovations diffuse more easily, but you may find that once you heal your corporate culture that diffusing innovations is easier.

Localites and Cosmopolitianites

Classic to the diffusion of innovation is the reality that folks who tend to be more open to other ideas – those that interact with folks outside of the local system – are key to getting the diffusion process started. They’re called cosmopolitanites. The other end of the spectrum are those people that only interact inside their system, they are the localites. Unlike a stranger who comes from outside the system, cosmopolitanites are a part of the system – they’re just more connected outside the system. Like strangers you can think of Cosmopolitianites as the spark that gets the process started. Localites help the process grow once started.

Situational Factors for Predictable Success

There are environmental factors as we saw above, but what about situational factors – in other words how much effort is applied to ensure that an innovation takes root. There are four factors that can lead to predictable success. Not surprisingly they amount to a good management. Back in 2005 I wrote “Use S.M.A.R.T. goals to launch a management by objectives plan” for TechRepublic – you’ll notice a ton of similarities to these four factors:

  • Predetermined Goals – You have to know where you’re going before you’ll be able to get there. You need to be specific and measurable in what you want to get accomplished.
  • Prescribed roles – You’ll need to describe who does what. This is a team effort, so who is going to what work?
  • Authority Structure – When conflicts arise how are they handled? The authority to make the decision should be clear.
  • Informal Patterns – Establish, reinvigorate, or sustain patterns and habits that support the innovation. In other words, figure out what habits would lead to sustained adoption of the innovation and encourage them

Types of Innovation Decisions

We’ve been talking about innovations as if they’re all the same but there are really three different kinds of innovations.

  • Optional – Anyone can adopt at any time. This type of innovation may have more value as more folks adopt the innovation but the decision to adopt is an individual one.
  • Collective – The decision must be made by a collective. That is to say that everyone must agree to pool their resources to purchase a well.
  • Authority – These type of innovations are mandated by the government or higher management and once the decision is made everyone must comply.

When dealing with collaboration, in most cases we’re dealing with collective-optional innovations. The implementation of a new IT system is a collective decision based on enough funding. Once the tool is purchased and implemented the decision shifts to an optional one – individual members of the organization can make their own decisions about how they’ll use the system.

Innovation Factors Influencing the Rate of Diffusion

I’ve long said that some things – like ERP systems – are more quickly adopted by an organization than SharePoint or a Knowledge Management solution. If you put both of them into an organization, you’re likely to find that the ERP system is adopted much more rapidly than a knowledge management system. Why? Well, there are five factors that seem to have the most influence on how fast an innovation is diffused. Let’s look at them.

Relative Advantage

Right now tablet computers, particularly the iPad are all the rage. So let’s think of the relative advantages of an iPad. Well if you have a desktop computer, there’s a clear portability benefit. Even from a laptop there’s an advantage – however, the advantage is much smaller. An iPad may be able to go to the meeting with you where your laptop can’t, but at least your laptop isn’t tethered to a power cord. (Presuming that your battery is still in working condition.) So the advantage of an iPad is portability and the relative advantages are greater when you only have a desktop. Of course, I’ve simplified the perspective of the iPad to this single dimension; but I’m using it for illustrative purposes, not trying to make a complicated decision about buying one.

The greater the relative advantage the more quickly that the innovation will diffuse. I should say that this is somewhat complicated by the fact that it’s the perception of the relative advantage that counts – and that’s where the other factors come into play.

Compatibility

If you’re a Mac user the compatibility of the iPad is really good. If you’re a PC user it’s good. The iPad can use your existing AC power in your house, it will connect to your wireless network, it uses the Internet, and you can synchronize information to your computer – whether it’s a Mac or a Windows based machine. In many ways the compatibility of the unit is pretty high. However, there are some ways that it’s not compatible. It won’t run Windows or Mac programs. So in that way the compatibility isn’t good. I have conversations with folks all the time that want their desktop experience on a tablet. Microsoft’s announcement of the surface tablets is trying to capitalize on this compatibility gap. (Which as it turns out is a hard technical problem to solve.)

The more compatible an innovation is – to the existing beliefs, infrastructure, and habits of folks the more readily it is adopted through the system. What if your mobile phone couldn’t call land lines? Would you use it? What if a new car required special roads, would you buy it? Compatibility with existing beliefs is important.

Complexity

Gone are the days of VCRs flashing 12:00 because the users couldn’t figure out how to set the time. The iPad comes out of the box, gets plugged into a computer running iTunes and after a few minutes (ok several) it’s up and running. While it may technically be very sophisticated, the way that users interact with it isn’t really complex. I’ll admit a fair amount of angst about the lack of documentation and how you’re just supposed to discover how things work – but for the most part the apparent complexity is pretty low.

When we believe something that we’re going to do is complex we try to put it off until there’s a time when we can focus on the item and figure it out. The problem is that the more complex the item the more time we believe we need to understand it – and the longer we wait to find a suitable time to start and of course the longer that we wait to start the slower the diffusion of the innovation is.

Trialability

On the idea that you can try an iPad before buying it – or at least committing to it – the perspective is mixed. On the one hand you probably know someone who has one and you might be able to borrow it for a few minutes to “play” with it – to try it out. In most stores it’s locked up behind glass so that you can’t touch it. Sort of like it was a precious jewel or some important document. However, on the other hand trialability refers to more than your ability to try something yourself. Trialability includes trial by proxy, that is to say that you can try it by someone you trust trying it. If someone you trust, who has similar needs as you buys it and likes it, you’ll “mentally try it” without having to put your hands on it yourself.

Lean Manufacturing calls trialability a reversible decision. The longer you can reverse a decision – if necessary – the greater the trialability and therefore the faster the innovation will diffuse. However, research points out that the less reversible the decision the happier you’re likely to be about it. (See The Paradox of Choice.)

Observability

The iPad is infinitely observable. They’re in coffee shops, offices, and schools. It seems like everywhere you go you’ll find one. As a result you can see that people are using them – and you’ll assume they’re enjoying them because they’re making the effort to carry them.

Some innovations are difficult to see – in fact some innovations are supposed to be transparent. Not surprisingly you may not see the number of people who are using an alternative Exchange server because the users won’t know any difference. The more observable you can make the adoption, and particularly the benefits of the adoption; the quicker that the innovation will diffuse.

The Bell Curve

A normal distribution looks like a bell curve. When you plot this in cumulative form instead of instance form you get the typical S curve seen in innovation diffusion. When plotted for density it looks like the bell curve we’re used to. Research on the diffusion of innovation settled on a strategy of categorizing folks into buckets based on how many standard deviations they are from the mean. The categories – and definitions are:

  • Innovators – More than two standard deviations ahead of the mean these folks need less time for their innovation awareness-decision process. They typically have more wealth, they are more cosmopolitan and they are greater risk takers. They are2.5% of the population.
  • Early Adopters – Between two and one standard deviation ahead of the mean, these folks need more time to make a decision and tend to rely on their peers (innovators) to make their decision but they don’t need a preponderance of evidence. They are 13.5% of the population.
  • Early Majority – Between one standard deviation and the mean these folks are really one half of the majority. They are more or less just accidentally early to the party. They may have greater connections with the innovators or early adopters. They are 34% of the population.
  • Late Majority – Between the mean and one standard deviation behind the late majority may have been exposed later than the early majority but typically require some level of additional proof. They are also 34% of the population
  • Laggards – More than one standard deviation behind the mean. Laggards are those folks who the innovation doesn’t apply to (or they don’t believe it applies to them), require a serious preponderance of the evidence, or are unable to adopt the innovation. They are 16% of the population.

Take a look at this in graph form:

Generalizations

The book crystalizes some of the conclusions from the research into a set of generalizations. I’ve reproduced them here.

  • 5-1: Earlier knowers of an innovation have more education than do later knowers.
  • 5-2: Earlier knowers of an innovation have higher social status than do late knowers.
  • 5-3: Earlier knowers of an innovation have more exposure to mass media channels of communication that do later knowers.
  • 5-4: Earlier knowers of an innovation have more exposure to interpersonal channels than do later knowers.
  • 5-5: Earlier knowers of an innovation have more contact with change agents than do later knowers.
  • 5-6: Earlier knowers of an innovation have more social participation than do later knowers.
  • 5-7: Earlier knowers of an innovation are more cosmopolite than are later knowers.
  • 5-8: Re-invention occurs at the implementation stage for many innovations and for many adopters.
  • 5-9: A higher degree of re-invention leads to a faster rate of adoption of an innovation.
  • 5-10: A higher degree of re-invention leads to a higher degree of sustainability of an innovation.
  • 5-11: Later adopters are more likely to discontinue innovations than are earlier adopters.
  • 5-12: Stages exist in the innovation-decision process.
  • 5-13: Mass media channels are relatively more important at the knowledge stage, and interpersonal channels are relatively more important at the persuasion stage in the innovation-decision process.
  • 5-14: Cosmopolite channels are relatively more important at the knowledge stage, and localite channels are relatively more important at the persuasion stage in the innovation-decision process.
  • 5-15: Mass media channels are relatively more important than interpersonal channels for earlier adopters than for later adopters.
  • 5-16: Cosmopolite channels are relatively more important than localite channels for earlier adopters than for later adopters.
  • 5-17: The rate of awareness-knowledge for an innovation is more rapid than its rate of adoption.
  • 6-1: The relative advantage of an innovation, as perceived by members of a social system, is positively related to its rate of adoption.
  • 6-2: The compatibility of an innovation, as perceived by members of a social system, is positively related to its rate of adoption.
  • 6-3: The complexity of an innovation, as perceived by members of a social system, is negatively related to its rate of adoption.
  • 6-4: The trialability of an innovation, as perceived by the members of a social system, is positively related to its rate of adoption.
  • 6-5: The observability of an innovation, as perceived by members of a social system, is positively related to its rate of adoption.
  • 7-1: Adopter distributions follow a bell-shaped curve over time and approach normality.
  • 7-2: Earlier adopters are no different from later adopters in age.
  • 7-3: Earlier adopters have more years of formal education than do later adopters.
  • 7-4: Earlier adopters are more likely to be literate than are later adopters.
  • 7-5: Earlier adopters have higher social status than do later adopters.
  • 7-6: Earlier adopters have a greater degree of upward social mobility than do later adopters.
  • 7-7: Earlier adopters have larger-sized units (farms, schools, companies, and so on) than do later adopters.
  • 7-8: Earlier adopters have greater empathy than do later adopters.
  • 7-9: Earlier adopters may be less dogmatic than are later adopters.
  • 7-10: Earlier adopters have a greater ability to deal with abstractions than do later adopters.
  • 7-11: Earlier adopters have greater rationality than do later adopters. Rationality is use of the most effective means to reach a given end.
  • 7-12: Earlier adopters have more intelligence than do later adopters.
  • 7-13: Earlier adopters have a more favorable attitude toward change than do later adopters.
  • 7-14: Earlier adopters are better able to cope with uncertainty and risk than are later adopters.
  • 7-15: Earlier adopters have a more favorable attitude toward science than do later adopters.
  • 7-16: Earlier adopters are less fatalistic than are later adopters. Fatalism is the degree to which an individual perceives a lack of ability to control his or her future.
  • 7-17: Earlier adopters have higher aspirations (for formal education, higher status, occupations, and so on) than do later adopters.
  • 7-18: Earlier adopters have more social participation than do later adopters.
  • 7-19: Earlier adopters are more highly interconnected through interpersonal networks in their social system than are later adopters. Connectedness is the degree to which an individual is linked to others.
  • 7-20: Earlier adopters are more cosmopolite than are later adopters.
  • 7-21: Earlier adopters have more contact with change agents than do later adopters.
  • 7-22: Earlier adopters have greater exposure to mass media communication channels than do later adopters.
  • 7-23: Earlier adopters have greater exposure to interpersonal communication channels than do later adopters.
  • 7-24: Earlier adopters seek information about innovations more actively than do later adopters.
  • 7-25: Earlier adopters have greater knowledge of innovations than do later adopters.
  • 7-26: Earlier adopters have a higher degree of opinion leadership than do later adopters.
  • 8-1: Interpersonal diffusion networks are mostly homophilous.
  • 8-2: When interpersonal diffusion networks are heterophilous, followers seek opinion leaders of higher socioeconomic status, with more formal education, with a greater degree of mass media exposure, who are more cosmopolite, have greater contact with change agents, and are more innovative.
  • 8-3: Opinion leaders have greater exposure to mass media than their followers.
  • 8-4: Opinion leaders are more cosmopolite than their followers.
  • 8-5: Opinion leaders have greater contact with change agents than their followers.
  • 8-6: Opinion leaders have greater social participation than their followers.
  • 8-7: Opinion leaders have higher socioeconomic status than their followers.
  • 8-8: Opinion leaders are more innovative than their followers.
  • 8-9: When a social system’s norms favor change, opinion leaders are more innovative, but when the system’s norms do not favor change, opinion leaders are not especially innovative.
  • 8-10, which states: The network interconnectedness of an individual in a social system is positively related to the individual’s innovativeness.
  • 8-11: The information-exchange potential of communication network links is negatively related to their degree of (1) communication proximity and (2) homophily.
  • 8-12: Individuals tend to be linked to others who are close to them in physical distance and who are relatively homophilous in social characteristics.
  • 8-13: An individual is more likely to adopt an innovation if more of the other individuals in his or her personal network have adopted previously
  • 9-1: Change agents’ success in securing the adoption of innovations by clients is positively related to the extent of change agent effort in contacting clients.
  • 9-2: Change agents’ success in securing the adoption of innovations by clients is positively related to a client orientation, rather than to a change agency orientation.
  • 9-3: Change agents’ success in securing the adoption of innovations by clients is positively related to the degree to which a diffusion program is compatible with clients’ needs.
  • 9-4: Change agents’ success in securing the adoption of innovations by clients is positively related to empathy with clients.
  • 9-5: Contact with change agents is positively related to higher socioeconomic status among clients.
  • 9-6: Contact with change agents is positively related to greater social participation by clients.
  • 9-7: Contact with change agents is positively related to higher formal education among clients.
  • 9-8: Contact with change agents is positively related to cosmopoliteness among clients.
  • 9-9 states: Change agents’ success in securing the adoption of innovations by clients is positively related to their homophily with clients.
  • 9-10 states: Change agents’ success in securing the adoption of innovations by clients is positively related to credibility in the clients’ eyes.
  • 9-11 is: Change agents’ success in securing the adoption of innovations by clients is positively related to the extent that he or she works through opinion leaders.
  • 9-12: Change agents’ success in securing the adoption of innovations by clients is positively related to increasing clients’ ability to evaluate innovations.
  • 10-1: Larger organizations are more innovative.
  • 10-2: Each of the organizational structure variables may be related to innovation in one direction during the initiation phases of the innovation process, and in the opposite direction during the implementation phases.
  • 10-3: The presence of an innovation champion contributes to the success of an innovation in an organization.
  • 10-4: A performance gap can trigger the innovation process.
  • 10-5: Both the innovation and the organization usually change in the innovation process in an organization.
  • 11-1: The effects of an innovation usually cannot be managed so as to separate the desirable from the undesirable consequences.
  • 11-2: The undesirable, indirect, and unanticipated consequences of an innovation usually go together, as do the desirable, direct, and anticipated consequences.
  • 11-3: Change agents more easily anticipate the form and function of an innovation for their clients than its meaning.
  • 11-4: The consequences of the diffusion of innovations usually widen the socioeconomic gap between the earlier and later adopting categories in a system.
  • 11-5: The consequences of the diffusion of innovation usually widen the socioeconomic gap between the audience segments previously high and low in socioeconomic status.
  • 11-6: A system’s social structure partly determines the equality versus inequality of an innovation’s consequences.
  • 11-7: When special efforts are made by a diffusion agency, it is possible to narrow, or at least not to widen, socioeconomic gaps in a social system.

Whew! This is definitely the longest book review I’ve written yet. If you’re serious about driving adoption in your organization or for your clients, pickup Diffusion of Innovations and see everything that I left out!

Bonds that Make Us Free

Book Review-Bonds That Make Us Free

I recently had an experience where someone stereotyped me as someone that had a problem sharing my feelings due to the fact that I work with computers. It was an interesting experience because I don’t think that way. I wasn’t offended; it was just one of those moments where I realized how other folks can see me based on the labels that are attached to me. One of the other stereo types of folks who work in technology is that we’re all about the gadgets – and OK I have to admit I have a bit of shiny object syndrome, however, much of my work over the last few years has also been trying to figure out how to help people help themselves. All that being said, I thought I’d take a break from some of the more industrious reading about adoption, engagement, diffusion of innovation (expect a book review soon), psychology, etc. to read about feelings and one-on-one human interaction.

I sometimes say that it’s every parent’s God given right to screw up their own children. This is a seemingly harsh thing to say but it’s true. We all inherited issues from our parents. They taught us – mostly unintentionally –some really bad habits when it comes to relating to other human beings. Whether you picked up rage (check), avoidance (check), passive-aggressive (check), or something else, you got wounds from your family of origin (your nuclear childhood family). In some sense we’re spending our lives trying to heal those wounds through other people, hobbies, alcohol, drugs, and risk taking. (I know I’m really upbeat in this post thus far, hang in there with me.)

The book Bonds That Make Us Free discusses how those wounds that are inflicted on us are ours to heal. We won’t get anywhere by believing that it’s someone else’s responsibility to heal us. We’ve got to heal ourselves. We’ve got to be responsible for our own “recovery.” No one else will – or even can – do it for us. That being said, you can’t heal until the issue that caused the hurt has been addressed. In the analogy of a disease the bacteria or virus must be eradicated. In the language of an injury, the thing causing that injury must be addressed. This may be easier said than done – or it may be done already. If you’ve moved out of your parent’s home – as I expect most of us have, their ability to impact you is much more limited than it was before. This is an of itself is a key point – you must remain somewhat vulnerable. Without some level of vulnerability you’ll never really connect and experience love with another human being. The good news is that you can take appropriate measures to remove yourself from a situation, create boundaries, or avoid the problem areas.

Let me unpack the preceding a bit since it’s a bit dense. On the one hand we’re not responsible for our hurts. We’re not responsible for the things others have inflicted upon us – we are, however, responsible for our recovery – for what our reaction is and for how we respond. This perspective limits the times that we can feel like we’re a victim – and that’s a good thing. Somewhere most of us learned that being a victim is a good thing. You don’t have to take responsibility to be a victim. It’s someone else’s fault. You can’t be blamed. However, victims feel helpless and therefore aren’t able to extract themselves from their condition and that is an unsafe attitude. I reviewed Mindset-The New Psychology of Success but I didn’t mention one of the studies that involved helplessness and how we can become conditioned to not try to change our conditions even if it would be good for us to try to do so.

I’m reminded of the circus elephant who’s tied to a small wooden stake with a rather thin rope. A child asks its mother, “Mommy, how can the big elephant be held back by such a small rope?” The answer is profound and confusing to the child. “It’s not the rope holding back the elephant, it’s his expectation.” You see when the elephant was smaller he was tied with a heavy chain to an equally heavy anchor. The elephant learned through repeated attempts that when there was something tugging on his leg that he wouldn’t be able to overcome it. With my apologies to PETA the story is a colorful way to realize the immense power of an expectation. If you expect that you’re the victim, then a victim you’ll remain.

One of the things that I stumbled up against while reading the book was a simple question that I’ve been asked – and I’ve asked others over the years. “Is this the person you want to be?” The typical way that this has been asked in the past by others is “What do you want folks to say about you at your funeral?” My problem with this is that it frames it in the distant (impossibly distant) future so there’s no need to change today. For me the more urgent question is “Is this the person you want to be?” because it frames the decision of what to do next based on the person that they want to become. In a sense we’re asking a person (perhaps ourselves) to ascribe meaning to our actions.

Strangely enough, we’re pretty good at ascribing meaning to actions – even when those actions are truly meaningless. We’re often ascribing meaning to the actions or inactions of others. When a friend doesn’t call us back we ask if they’re offended with us. When a car cuts in front of us we believe the person is being rude (rather than just not knowing the area and suddenly realizing they need to turn.) However, as much as we ascribe meaning to what others do, we rarely question how our actions drive us to being more like the person we want to be – or less like the person we want to be. One of the keys in Bonds That Make Us Free is how we react is the problem. Our thoughts, judgments, and hurt feelings are the problem.

There’s a beautiful dance that’s played out in the book between love – connections and the eastern philosophy of detachment. It’s a dance because detachment is often heard as “I don’t care” as expressed by an angry person. However, it’s the anger that indicates that the words are not true. If the person didn’t care they would answer calmly. If they weren’t attached to the outcome they couldn’t be disappointed. (Anger is disappointment directed according to eastern philosophies.) So the dance between being open to another person to expressing your willingness to love them and at the same time accepting that they may not “love you back” is a delicate walk.

These are my thoughts – but the concepts here are expressed – more eloquently – in the book.

Lost Knowledge

Book Review-Lost Knowledge: Confronting the Threat of an Aging Workforce

Knowledge management is tricky business. I’ve spent a non-trivial part of my professional career converting tacit knowledge into explicit knowledge – well, at least one kind of tacit knowledge. This is, in fact, part of the problem. Some of what we call tacit knowledge is really implicit knowledge. That is I know something but I’ve not written down the rules or steps which lead to that knowledge. For instance, I may know the roles in a software development process inherently but haven’t codified them. (You can find where I did this for a series of articles, Cracking the Code: Breaking Down the Software Development Roles.)

Over the years I’ve codified implicit rules-based knowledge and implicit know-how types of tacit knowledge into explicit knowledge – however that’s only part of the kinds of knowledge. There are kinds of tacit knowledge that we don’t know how to codify now – and others that are simply too expensive to codify. Knowledge management is therefore a tricky challenge. It comes down to not only codifying those things which can be converted from tacit knowledge to explicit knowledge but also involves those things which cannot be converted. The book Lost Knowledge: Confronting the Threat of an Aging Workforce breaks apart the problem of knowledge management and talks about the various challenges to identifying critical knowledge which may be lost in your organization as well as strategies for retaining or replacing it.

I’ve been considering tacit knowledge for a long time. Back in 2006, I was writing about how to convert tacit knowledge into explicit knowledge. This is the implicit to explicit conversion process I spoke about at the top of this article. More recently I wrote a blog post Apprentice, Journeyman, Master which speaks to the kind of tacit knowledge that cannot be codified and therefore converted into explicit information.

Some kinds of knowledge are notoriously difficult to transfer. Consider the idea of transferring knowledge about how to troubleshoot a system. Bloom would say that this is a high-order appreciation of systemic knowledge – in other words, this requires a deep knowledge of a system. The kind of learning to understand a system is considered a more difficult educational objective. Gary Klein in Sources of Power argues that good decision making – the kind of snap decisions that military commanders and fire fighters must make – are inherently based on the experiences of the commanders and fire fighters. Because of that they can’t be easily transferred from one person to another. Efficiency in Learning speaks about how experts develop schemas – and how it’s often difficult for experts to communicate with novices because experts have developed more complex long term schemas for processing the information.

Lost Knowledge also acknowledges this problem but not just from the pure learning perspective, but also from a cultural perspective. Sometimes the culture of an organization makes it difficult. Perhaps the experts don’t interact with the novices so they fail to develop a bond of trust between the groups. Perhaps the organization values innovation and individuality more than reuse. (i.e. Cowboy culture) Perhaps the organization is in a place where changes are common place and therefore older experiences and knowledge are discounted in value quickly.

Whether an organization struggles with the culture of knowledge transfer or not; there activities that can be done to improve the transfer of knowledge. Lost Knowledge creates clarity around the types of activities and the kinds of knowledge attempting to be transferred in Figure 6.2:

Let’s take a quick look at the types of activities – or tactics that can be used to transfer knowledge:

  • Interviews – Speaking with experts and recording the results. This could be in the form of audio recordings, video recordings, or transcriptions of audio recordings.
  • Documentation – Obviously this is the conversion of tacit knowledge into explicit knowledge and for that purpose it’s exceedingly effective.
  • Training – Training is attempting to teach the knowledge. (See Efficiency in Learning and The Adult Learner for more about that.)
  • Story Telling – For thousands of years humans have communicated and passed down information through stories. We’re relatively hardwired to learn from stories. Story telling involves retelling of important experiences by experts.
  • Mentoring/Coaching – Mentoring and coaching is what it sounds like. The expert mentors a replacement – or coaches a set of less experienced individuals on their learning.
  • After Action Reviews (AARs) – These “Post Mortem” reviews are about the gradual transfer of expertise through the development of shared experiences and review. Experienced employees may share similar stories there by allowing junior employees to develop more abstract schemas (See Effective Learning)
  • Communities of Practice – These communities are designed to bring together the best practices for a topic area. By bringing together different ideas and having a group of experienced employees talking about it, novice employees will be able to extract knowledge.

With that let’s take a quick look at the types of knowledge the book identifies:

  • Explicit – Things that are specifically coded. Things that can be transferred without context through a book or other documentation.
  • Implicit Rule-based – Information that can be made explicit but hasn’t been.
  • Implicit know-how – Information that can be made explicit but for which there is some contextual connectivity and so therefore is more difficult to convert to explicit
  • Tacit know-how – Beliefs, Intuition, and other knowledge that is difficult to codify. (See Sources of Power for Recognition Primed Decisions)
  • Deep Tacit – Cultural knowledge; “how things really work”

But I’m well ahead of myself, let’s take a step back and really describe the problem. Well, it’s employee turnover. However, it’s not just any employee turnover. It is employee turnover of mid-career and late career employees and particularly turnover due to retirement. Those who are the most valuable to the organization are going to retire at some point. When they retire they’re going to take a ton of knowledge with them. In order to reduce the loss of knowledge there are numerous strategies that you can take:

  1. Lock older employees in – Make them want to stay past retirement age. This can be additional compensation, education about what the needs typically are in retirement (many employees retire without fully understanding how they will meet their financial needs), or flexible work arrangements.
  2. Develop knowledge transfer programs to transfer their knowledge to other employees. As the figure above shows, some kinds of knowledge are resistant to transfer.
  3. Kidnap the workers and don’t let them out. (Perhaps this isn’t a viable option.)

The book enumerates a great number of strategies for retaining employees, which I won’t repeat here. Instead, I’ll offer up that the process of onboarding new employees is expensive. Programs to reduce turnover of all employees, not just those with important knowledge, is a good way for organizations to protect its velocity in the market.

I want to leave with a parting comment. I vividly remember early in my career how difficult it was to find a job with little experience. I can remember thinking at the time that drive, tenacity, quick-wittedness, and hard work should outweigh the benefits of experience. After all, I had seen numerous people with experience that couldn’t compete with me. (Or at least they couldn’t compete with my delusional visions of grandeur.) However, I’ve begun to realize how experience can be an invaluable shortcut. Once you’ve solved a problem you don’t have to solve it again. You can review your previous answer – which can save a ton of time.

If you’re curious about how to retain and protect the knowledge that your organization needs to be successful, you should read Lost Knowledge.

Love Acceptance and Forgiveness

Book Review-Love, Acceptance, and Forgiveness

In my Sunday school class at church, we’re watching an old series by James MacDonald titled “Lord, Change My Attitude.” During one of his sessions he mentions a book that he refers to as being out of print – Love, Acceptance, and Forgiveness. At the time he made the comment it was true, but in the intervening years the book was revived and republished so when I went searching for it, I found it.

The book carries the subtitle “Being Christian in a Non-Christian World” but that’s not why I read it – nor do I believe it does justice to the key truths that are contained in the book. (In short, I’m encouraging my non-Christian friends to read on – and read the book.)

Above all, the book shares a striking clarity of what love is. It goes beyond the magnetic draw that pulls two teenagers together. You can call that lust, or chemical reactions, biology, evolution, or what you will. The book calls love a decision. Few of us think about love as a decision – as a choice we make. We believe that things like marriage are a choice – but love? Don’t I just love the people I love? There’s no rhyme or reason to it – or is there?

There’s some research to explain that some of our desire is triggered by scent – that makes sense because our olfactory senses are tied to our basal brains. However, there’s also research to show that the more time with people the more we tend to like them. There are, of course, notable exceptions of the people that we develop a dislike for. So there are rules to whom we like and dislike – but love is different.

Popular music, tv, and the rest of culture talk about the emotional kind of love – that’s triggered by biology – but we don’t hear about the decision that people make to love. The problem with the emotional love is that it will fade. You simply cannot sustain the same sort of feelings for your spouse as when you first met, we’re not wired that way. Biological love – for lack of a better term – triggers the release dopamine – one of the same chemicals that is released with the use of illegal drugs. And just like addictive illegal drugs, high levels of dopamine cannot be sustained indefinitely.

So you have to replace biological love with a choice. It is a conscious decision to put someone else in your life first. I don’t mean this in a platitude sort of way – agreeing to put them first but not agreeing to get up and take the trash out because they’re not feeling well. I should also caution that I don’t mean this in a way that means that someone can never stand their ground with their spouse, instead, I mean that you must do all things in love to your spouse but know when to protect your rights and needs. (I probably wandered a bit off the book’s central point here but it’s a realization that I find helpful.)

Acceptance is an interesting bit because it seems like we’re hard wired to not do it well. We don’t trust those who do things differently than us. We don’t like people who don’t dress like us, talk like us, or think like us. Eastern philosophies speak of detachment and being OK with any observation as long as that observation is true. We as humans are notoriously good at dismissing any information that doesn’t match our preconceived ideas. We’ll ignore opposing positions and dismiss people who share them because their views don’t match ours.

Acceptance – for me – is realizing that truth is relative to everyone’s experience. I cannot change others. I can only influence them. I can influence them best when I try to understand them better. So if I want to reach someone I need to understand them, which means accepting that at this moment they are who they are. I realize this is a long chain. In my experience, accepting people as they are – not how I want them to be – has reduced a great source of stress.

The last headline topic is forgiveness. This is hard because I’ve seen grudges carried in my family for decades. There are family members who simply don’t (and didn’t) talk to each other because of a misunderstanding decades ago. (No, this isn’t a hyperbole.) In those cases I’ve applied significant pressure to try to reunite the factions and have seen more than a bit of success. Through helping with the understanding of acceptance it became possible to forgive them.

The book describes forgiveness as an environment, a lifestyle. I believe that – even though I won’t say that I live it every day. I know that research has demonstrated that maintaining negative emotions has a negative impact on your health. I know that research shows that people who “harbor grudges” are less happy than those who don’t. However, I’ll share that the line between forgiveness and placing yourself in a place of vulnerability again is frighteningly narrow.

Everyone has the right and need to protect themselves from harmful, toxic people. Forgiveness doesn’t mean continuing in a bad situation just because you forgive the other person – however, it means letting go of deep-felt feelings of anger or hurt towards another person. You can simultaneously forgive someone and create barriers between you and them to protect yourself.

Efficiency in Learning

Book Review-Efficiency in Learning

I recently wrote an article for TrainingIndustry.com titled “Everything You Think You Know about Learning Retention Rates is Wrong” which is perhaps a bit of a hyperbole but it’s based on the discovery that the traditional thinking about how people learn is wrong. It’s based on Edgar Dale’s Cone of Experience which didn’t have research to support retention rates and was never intended to be used as it has been. In the article I made the assertion that there’s not been a great deal of research on learning rates differing between different modes of instruction – which I still believe. However, in the research for that article I stumbled across the book Efficiency in Learning: Evidence-Based Guidelines to Manage Cognitive Load – and I’m impressed. Ruth Clark, Frank Nguyen, and John Sweller did a great job of converting the research studies that are available into a set of guidelines for developing content that are both easy to understand and are on a solid research foundation.

I’ve read more than a few books on instructional design and they have had two problems. First, they didn’t provide clear direction on what the rules were for making design decisions and second they didn’t address situations where the guidelines were in conflict – Efficiency in Learning describes the rules (or guidelines) and what to do when they guidelines are in conflict. In short, the book takes the relatively fuzzy world of how we learn and breaks it down into chunks that can be understood and applied.

The foundation for the book is the theory of cognitive load – that is humans have a relatively small and fixed capacity to process information. We overcome this by building schemas to make complex topics operate as a single unit in our thoughts. We can thereby function in complex situations because we’ve simplified large groups into single things in our thinking. Learning is, in a sense, creating these schemas so that we can process more complex – and interesting – scenarios. Those who have studied Bloom’s Taxonomy of Educational Objectives might see learning as a continuum from recognition through recall and up to the higher levels – however, most learning scenarios today aren’t focused on remembering simple facts, they’re based on being able to use the information – those things on higher levels in Bloom’s taxonomy. (I first talked about this on my blog in 2006 in a post on Recognition vs. Recall.) The way that we learn simple wrote facts is different than the way we learn how to think about our world differently.

Within in the context of the book cognitive load is broken into three distinct types:

  • Intrinsic – the mental work imposed by the instructional goals.
  • Germane – the mental work imposed by the instructional activities that benefit the goals
  • Extraneous – the mental work not related to the instructional goals or activities (in other words, noise)

The book shares a total of 29 guidelines designed to minimize extraneous cognitive load and creating some germane cognitive load to further the goals. I’ve reproduced the goals below to give you a sense of what you can expect. Each of the guidelines is supported by research. The ones that I find the most interesting is those which go against “folk wisdom” about how you should design a learning course. For instance, generally we believe that repetition is a good thing and therefore if we deliver the content multiple different times and ways will lead to better results – except the research seems to show that this isn’t true. (Thus why I mentioned Bloom’s above – we know that simple repetition helps with simple facts, however, it doesn’t appear to work for procedural content.)

I also found interesting the awareness that some of the strategies that help novice learners actually depress learning in experts. In other words, the way that experts need to learn is different than the way that novices need to learn. Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) often deliver content in a way that assumes users know basic concepts and because of this the user can collapse those concepts so that they don’t need to be actively considered – however, often novice users can’t collapse these concepts and as a result end up overwhelmed because they are unable to process all of the variables –in the way that they’re delivered.

If you’re serious about creating good instructional materials, I recommend you give Efficiency in Learning a read.

The 29 Guidelines:

  • Use Diagrams to Optimize Performance on Tasks Requiring Spatial Manipulations
  • Use Diagrams to Promote Learning of Rules Involving Spatial Relationships
  • Use Diagrams to Help Learners Build Deeper Understanding
  • Explain Diagrams with Words Presented by Audio Narration
  • Use Cues and Signals to Focus Attention to Important Visual and Textual Content.
  • Integrate Explanatory Text Close to Related Visuals on Pages and Screens.
  • Integrate words and visuals used to teach computer applications into one delivery medium
  • Pare Content Down to Essentials
  • Eliminate Extraneous Visuals, Text, and Audio
  • Eliminate Redundancy in Content Delivery Modes
  • Provide Performance Aids as External Memory Supplements
  • Design Performance Aids by Applying Cognitive Load Management Techniques
  • Teach System Components Before Teaching the Full Process
  • Teach Supporting Knowledge Separate from Teaching Procedure Steps
  • Consider the Risks of Cognitive Overload Before Designing Whole Task Learning Environments
  • Give Learners Control Over Pacing and Manage Cognitive Load When Pacing Must Be Instructionally Controlled
  • Replace Some Practice Problems with Worked Examples
  • Use Completion Examples to Promote Learning Processing
  • Transition from Worked Examples to Problem Assignments with Backwards Fading
  • Display Worked Examples and Completion Problems in Ways That Minimize Extraneous Cognitive Load
  • Use Diverse Worked Examples to Foster Transfer of Learning
  • Help Learners Exploit Examples Through Self-Explanations
  • Help Learners Automate New Knowledge and Skills
  • Promote Mental Rehearsal of Complex Content After Mental Models Are Formed
  • Write High Coherent Texts for Low Knowledge Readers
  • Avoid Interrupting Reading of Low Skilled Readers
  • Eliminate Redundant Content for More Experienced Learners
  • Transition from Worked Examples to Problem Assignments as Learners Gain Expertise
  • Use Directive Rather Than Guided Discovery Learning Designs for Novice Learners
Duct Tape Marketing

Book Review-Duct Tape Marketing

It’s hard to think of something that’s more practical than duct tape. Whether you’re a fan of the TV show MythBusters or you’ve got your own stories about what you’ve been able to do with duct tape, you know it’s pretty amazing stuff. Duct Tape Marketing promises to help you put together marketing with a limited budget – as other books like Guerilla Marketing do. I stumbled across the book from a friend of mine having forwarded a seminar – that I couldn’t attend but I decided to invest in the book anyway.

The book clarifies some difficult concepts. Having watched the corporate search and workflow markets grow up over the past several years, I’m intimately aware of how difficult it is to build a market. Building a market takes time, patience, education, and luck. Duct Tape marketing makes it clear that it’s easier to differentiate your offerings in a competitive market than it is to create a market. This truth applies to every marketing situation whether it’s SharePoint or Comedy. I know that the biggest challenge I have in helping people understand the power of the Shepherd’s Guide is that I’ve got a model they’ve never seen before – licensing content for use on their network. Creating that little sub-market inside of the SharePoint space has proved to be more challenging (and rewarding) than I could have imagined.

There are some pretty classical messages in the book like finding your unique market proposition (what makes you uniquely valuable), finding your ideal client (creating a picture of the perfect client so you can always keep them in mind as you’re seeking clients), and an elevator pitch (a 30 second verbal commercial you give to folks when they ask you what you do.) – just to name a few. If you’re looking for some fundamentals of marketing you’ll find that the coverage is there.

In addition to the classic content, you’ll find some fairly progressive thinking in Duct Tape Marketing too. There is practical advice on how to create content and pointers to some services that can help you in your content creation journey. Fundamentally John Jantsch believes that the key to success is the creation of content. This shouldn’t be too surprising from a book author, however, the conversation is very pragmatic. I loved his coverage of objections – “No one reads blogs” with the honest truth – search engines love blogs and if you’ve searched for any topic on the Internet it’s likely you’ve seen blogs in the results.

In the end, Duct Tape Marketing is a nice balance between theory, approach, and practice. If you’re looking to step up your marketing game, it’s worth a read.

The Information Diet: A Case for Conscious Consumption

Book Review-The Information Diet: A Case for Conscious Consumption

Most of the time when I read a book that I have problems with – or that I don’t like most of it – I simply don’t write a review of it. I generally think that there’s little value in telling people what not to buy – it’s a habit I picked up from my days of writing magazine reviews.  However, the book The Information Diet is a bit different – because there’s some things that I agree with strongly and a few things that I vehemently disagree with.

I’m going to let you in on a secret that many of my closest friends know. I’m quirky. Yep. I admit it. I do things that make little sense from the surface. One of my quirks is that I almost never turn on a TV at a hotel while I’m traveling. If I’m in the breakfast room I won’t go over and turn it off – I’m not rude. However, I don’t turn the TV on in my room. This has led to some interesting conversations about how great the TV or the channel selection is where I have to respond with “Um, yea. Sure.” The heart of this quirk is the heart of The Information Diet book. That is, you should be choosy about your information diet just like you should be with your physical diet.

The precept is that we’re consuming highly processed information that has embedded biases that we won’t be able to detect. Advertising sections with editorial content in a magazine is a really good example. Those Amish heaters which are purportedly Amish-made is another good example. The heat source isn’t Amish made… of course that makes sense if you spend time tearing apart the idea that they’re electrically driven heat sources – but who thinks that much about a space heater? (By the way, the Amish heater is my example, not the authors)

A key message is that you don’t have to consume information, any more than you have to consume a slice of pie placed in front of you. However, how many of us have the will power to resist a delicious slice of grandma’s apple pie that’s placed in front of us? We’re leading our elephant down the wrong path – and the rider is simply not strong enough to steer him back in place – for long. (See Switch and The Happiness Hypothesis) So it’s true that you don’t have to consume information but it’s also true that you’re wise to influence the information that you put in front of you. Unfortunately, the forces of commercialism are driving news outlets to seek to entertain and affirm us – because those are the things that keep us coming back. It’s sort of like the high fructose corn sugar and other sweeteners silently added to our foods to make them more appealing to us.

Before I talk about what bothers me about the book, I need to talk about another really important distinction that’s touched on lightly in the book. We tend to wire ourselves in one of two basic operating modes. Mode 1 is constantly connected, constantly distracted, and constantly confused as to what we’re doing. (I might be editorializing a bit.) In other words, we’re always looking for the next email popup, the next tweet, the next IM. We spend all day chasing one shiny object then the next. There are some jobs where these skills are absolutely essential. If you’re monitoring a chemical plant – I want you trying to take in every piece of information. So to be clear this isn’t a bad way of operating. It’s the way that our ancestors used to operate. They were constantly vigilant about the threat of a lion. However, they dealt with substantially less interruptions.

Mode 2 is completely focused. This is the cone of silence – although I actually find that having a cone of music is instantly more helpful. This is Flow. This is focused concentration leading to the ability to move a single thing forward. Peopleware talked about how it might take 15 minutes for a developer to regain the productivity they had after an interruption. (This is consistent w/ Csikszentmihalyi’s research.) Today we’re overwhelmed with interruptions. It’s not just email or twitter but a desk phone and a mobile phone. Text messages and knocks at the door.

The biggest issue I have with the book is that it advocates a 5 minute working, 1 minute break approach for helping folks deal with distractions. The concept is you have to focus for five minutes and then you can take a break and getup and stretch for a minute. Um. Wait. If it takes 15 minutes to get into flow … you’ll never get there. So the approach to the day that is recommended is awful from a productivity standpoint. The author admits that he extended these windows once he got discipline about staying focused. I appreciate the need to program yourself to be focused – to block out distractions – however, in this case I believe the medicine is worse than the disease.

I need a final word of criticism for the book before I encourage you to buy it. The author has some serious biases relative to his political background and spends an inordinate amount of time talking about political situations and information in that context. This was just annoying to me. This is coupled with the real undertone that the author was attempting to lose weight immediately before or during the writing of the book. As a result some of the analogies and ties are a bit too much for me. (Even as I’m trying to lose a few extra pounds myself.)

Still, understanding how the information you consume leads you to think differently, and how those thoughts can be a serious issue over time is an important thing. (We’ve all met the closed minded person.) If you’re interested in learning more about how your information forms you – you should read The Information Diet.

Demand: Creating What People Love Before They Know They Want It

Book Review-Demand: Creating What People Love Before They Know They Want It

Working on the new DVDs (Psychology of SharePoint Adoption and Engagement, Nine Keys to SharePoint Success) and the SharePoint Tutor (SharePoint Shepherd’s Guide Corporate Edition) I’ve gotten quite curious about how demand is created and how some products sell well while others don’t. I’ve gotten a healthy appreciation for the value of marketing – if a consumer doesn’t know you exist they can’t buy you. However, I knew that something else was missing. The book Demand describes a set of keys that Adrian Slywotzky believes create products that will have great demand – from NetFlix to Amazon.com and beyond.

Slywotzky believes there are six things all demand creators do:

  1. Make it Magnetic – Create an emotional connection to the product or service. Create a product that has some special, unique value.
  2. Fix the Hassle Map – Life is filled with hassles. The more hassles that your product solves and the fewer that it creates the lower the friction between people and buying your product. The less friction the more purchasing.
  3. Build a Complete Backstory –It’s not enough to have a product that’s not supported by the right back end systems. Consider the iPod. What’s the real value? The ability to manage and acquire music – and that’s the job of iTunes and the iTunes store. You can’t build one part of the solution without the other.
  4. Find the Triggers – Triggers are what gets people to take action. They’re notoriously difficult to create. In consulting I say that I have no true competitors except inaction. I seriously don’t view any other SharePoint consultants as a real competitor. I really only compete with the client deciding not to do the project or to do it internally.
  5. Build a Steep Trajectory – This is how the product improves over time. The greater the rate of improvement the greater the trajectory.
  6. De-Average – Realize that everyone is unique and has their own needs, desires, and hassle maps. This is customization ala The One to One Future.

The book is sprinkled with helpful, and reassuring, nuggets. For instance, Demand speaks of how great demand creators imitate (copy) in places that aren’t strategic. For instance, NetFlix copying amazon’s web design. It’s a simple example on how something that was being done right could be copied and adapted to minimize investments in an area.

Incidentally, the book also speaks of the relentless testing that goes into refining other aspects. For instance, NetFlix’s obsession with creating a mailer that worked. So on the one hand it speaks of copying the non-critical items to business and absolutely creating the right solutions where it is critical to business. This in turn reminds me of Tom Peters’ (et all) book In Search of Excellence where there are numerous stories of how organizations obsessed about things that were non-obvious – for instance clean washrooms.

In some sense the obsession, or preoccupation if you prefer, with details that on the surface shouldn’t matter is a part of the genius of the book – and the demand creators. There are many things that are true but also counter intuitive. For instance, go to your favorite ecommerce site and start the checkout process – you’ll be more or less prevented from shopping the catalog and getting more items in your cart. Why? Because it turns out that if you have the opportunity to keep putting things in your cart you’re less likely to checkout. Truly good demand creators – the book asserts – will do the research to determine where things are counter intuitive and capitalize on those places to dramatically improve their demand.

If you’re struggling to sell a product, or trying to figure out why your service isn’t selling like it should – or if you’re even considering starting a business and are concerned with whether or not people will want to buy what you have to sell – Demand is a great book.

Heroic Leadership: Best Practices from a 450-Year-Old Company That Changed the World

Book Review-Heroic Leadership: Best Practices from a 450-Year-Old Company That Changed the World

Sometimes you stumble over a book in a way that makes you believe that there’s some outside force – God or the higher power or whatever – and you decide you need to read it. Heroic Leadership: Best Practices from a 450-Year-Old Company That Changed the World is one of those for me. On my way out to SPTechCon last week I sat next to a lady who I noticed had a leadership paper she was working on. She wasn’t reading a book on leadership, she was editing a paper on leadership. I can’t remember this every happening in all of my years of traveling. Through our conversations I learned that she was a minister’s wife in Iowa attending a seminary in Chicago. When we discussed leadership she said that the book Heroic Leadership had really influenced her thoughts on leadership – particularly that she realized that everyone leads. A book that can create a feeling of leadership inside a person is a book worth reading – so I downloaded it and started reading.

While Who Moved My Cheese? is an easy read, Heroic Leadership is a bit more deep. Chris Lowney was a Jesuit Seminarian who left to work for JP Morgan and the book is his reflections on the Jesuit company – the Society of Jesus. His perspective is historical, providing references through time of how the Jesuits had shown leadership. However, that’s not a good place to start – the good place to start is “who are the Jesuits in the first place?” I had a vague idea but didn’t realize that they were an outgrowth of the catholic church. Certainly they trace their roots back to 1540, so they’re a 450 year old company although company had a slightly different meaning. As Lowney is fond of pointing out in the book, the company wasn’t much like any company that we’d recognize today.

Fundamentally Lowney believes that the Jesuit leadership is based on four key values:

  • Self-Awareness – Leadership comes from leading oneself which in turn comes from self awareness.
  • Ingenuity – Being willing to live outside the box in order to reach ones goals. Said differently, they’re always looking for something better than the status quo.
  • Love – Concern for others and their condition both physically and spiritually.
  • Heroism – Facing adversity with courage and self-sacrifice

The focus on self is relatively unique. Many leadership books focus on how to work with other people. Some books like The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People speak about principle driven leadership, however, most books are more concerned with the techniques of leadership than the principles. Strangely the Jesuits do have their own form of “how to” book. It’s The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuit company. However, as the title suggests, it’s not a book about with “how to” for other people, it’s a “how to” book for yourself. It’s a guide to the process of discovering yourself and your values. It’s an inside-out approach to leadership.

While Lowney never directly uses the words Servant Leadership, the thought kept resonating with me as the list of accomplishments of the Jesuits – and their approach to the accomplishments were read. Servant Leadership puts the leader below the folks they are leading – supporting them in their growth. This is certainly consistent with the values of the Jesuits. In China they became involved with the creation of the Chinese calendar bureau and by supporting the creation of accurate calendars they were helping to lead the Chinese people in acceptance of their Christian ideas. They created the finest schools in Europe for their time (and for free) in order to help others become more educated (and provide a basis for potential members.) Their attitude was one of leadership through support and doing.

A key component that Lowney discusses several times throughout the book is the contemplative or reflective nature of the Jesuits. The spiritual exercises anchored them into a routine where they reflected on their condition and themselves. This was a sort of continual fine-tuning which allowed them to both shape their world view and refine their understanding of themselves and their weaknesses. Very few people have a thoughtful, intentional time to reevaluate their world and themselves personally.

One curious bit is the question of who is a leader? As I mentioned above my seat-mate heard that everyone leads through this book – and that’s true whether they do it well or poorly may be up for debate but the fact that they are leading isn’t. We lead when we help a friend through a personal problem – we lead them through the problem. We lead when we discourage or stop bad behaviors of our peers. We lead in lots of ways.

The Jesuits, in Lowney’s opinion, were generally good at knowing which things were changeable. That is they knew that some things, like the way they dressed, were not a reflection on their core beliefs and were instead cultural norms. They differentiated between their religious faith and principles from those things that which are simply norms. This clarity between what must remain the same because they are unalterable expressions of their value system and which things were just the way things have been done before – and therefore are of little consequence if they change is very powerful. I was reflecting on the way that I add value to my clients and how the ability to pinpoint key problems is essential. Knowing which things can be changed and which cannot allows everyone to keep productive.

I was also struck by the innovation in the Jesuits finding solutions that no one had figured out before. Lowney describes this as living outside the box and certainly I’d love to figure out how to get everyone to redraw the boundaries of the boxes. For me I see people artificially draw small borders for their boxes. Not knowing what is and isn’t movable causes them to unnecessarily confine themselves to a place where fewer things are possible. From my perspective, the Jesuits throughout history were able to define their boxes – their limits – with enviable accuracy. They knew how far they could go and no further. This sort of reminds me of farmers. Most folks who’ve never been on a farm think of the experience as quaint or backwards – or both. However, I find ingenuity on the farm. I find new uses for existing materials and solutions built upon the foundation of what was at hand. Farmers knew what the materials around them would – and would not do – and used everything at their disposal to fix the windmill, create a tool, or find a solution to a problem.

The final point I want to make about Heroic Leadership is the word magis. That word (concept) means something more or something greater. The quest to continue the journey to find that better that is yet to come. It’s the core drive that caused the Jesuits to span across the globe to chart the uncharted and to do what had not been done. It’s that single word that fueled the drive. So my question for you is, do you have that drive for magis?

Who Moved My Cheese?

Book Review-Who Moved My Cheese?

On the spectrum of easy to access compared to academic reading, Who Moved My Cheese? is a clearly on the end of easy to access. The book centers on a story with two mice (Sniff and Scurry) and two “littlepeople” (Hem and Haw). The story is a fable designed to teach how different approaches to change are healthier than others. Perhaps the greatest value in the book is that because it’s so easy to read it can be given to every employee as a reading assignment. It’s less than 100 pages so in a few hours most people will have it read.

Change happens. There are times when I’d swear that our world is spinning faster and faster – even though I know this can’t be true. Despite our intellectual awareness that change is a part of life today still some resist. Some members of your organization will steadfastly deny that your market is changing, your competitors are changing. Once the change becomes impossible to ignore some bemoan the change. No one told me. It’s not my fault that the world changed. I shouldn’t be held accountable.

If you’re trying to get the entire organization to realize how change isn’t the problem. If you’re trying to get them to see how their attitudes and behaviors are the problem, then you may find that Who Moved My Cheese? is the right change for you.