Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Social networking community and the pace and shaping of innovation – 4

Posted in social networking and business, strategy and planning by Timothy Platt on October 9, 2011

This is my fourth installment in a series on innovation diffusion and adaptation, and the pace at which this overall process proceeds (see Social Networking and Business, postings 133, 134 and 136 for parts 1-3.) And one of my principle goals in this is to discuss the potential connections between social networking and models of community structure and communication based on that, and models of how innovation diffuses through communities and is adapted by them.

Both types of model are based on taxonomies listing how individuals behave and on the strategies they follow – one for networking and communicating and the other for responding to change. In Part 3 I looked at this from the social networking perspective and in terms of the social networking taxonomy that I have developed and used in this blog. I continue that discussion here with a goal of more firmly drawing connections between these two approaches. And I start here with a brief summary description of some of the basic details of the innovation diffusion process and its model of community (see Part 1 for a general reference on this.)

In the same way that communities can be divided up conceptually according to how their members network and communicate, they can be viewed and conceptually divided up according to how their members respond to change and the potential for change.

• Communities can be divided into pioneer and early adaptors, middle adaptors, and late and lagging adaptors. Here, community members fall along this axis according to the strategies they individually follow in responding to the opportunities and challenges of innovation and change.
• One determinant here in distinguishing between strategies followed is in whether an individual primarily sees positive opportunity in change, or whether they initially start out seeing potential challenges or even threats that change might bring.
• A second determinant that is very important here is in how much socially supportive and social networking based approval and acceptance a change has to have accrued before community members will consider trying it. And as noted in Part 3, this is at least as much a matter of who in the community has tried this innovation as how many have, and the community roles and social networking strategies that those change adaptors follow.

As I said in Part 2:

• “There are people who gravitate toward and readily adapt new, and who are more comfortable with the uncertainty that new and unproven always brings with it. These people are also, as a general pattern, less in need of the validating experience of others in order to try new, or of social support in taking that chance. At the other end of this scale are those who adapt only after they see a broad based consensus of approval that a new innovation is in fact going to work, and that it will offer greater value than whatever it would replace …. And in between, you find the middle adaptors who do not jump into new first or wait until last either, but who are comfortable adapting after they see some success with it.”
• “The earliest adaptors simply jump in on the basis of their own analysis of costs and benefits, and usually with a positive attitude towards risk, and towards being different and taking novel approaches. The later and last, lagging adaptors seek out broad-based consensus from others in their community that this new innovation really is a good move – and then, after all the facts are in they adapt too. In the middle you find the vast majority, numerically, of any given naturally developing community, and social networking and social opinion play a key role here if this innovation is to become widely accepted and not simply die off with just a rapid adaptor following.”

Evidence presented in the Peruvian village case study cited in Part 2 strongly suggests that the most active social networkers, most able to influence innovation diffusion and adaptation or rejection there were in fact late or lagging adaptors and certainly for proposed change such as boiling drinking water as a public health measure. People not actively, effectively networking in those communities and not in a position to affect broad-based change may have tried this innovation but they were the only people who did. And the people who were in a social networking position to influence their communities were resistant to change.

Kurzweil’s vision of greatly accelerated diffusion and adaptation of change as discussed in Part 1 would require a very significant alignment of hub networkers and other key influencers, and pioneer and early adaptors of the diffusion and adaptation model, and this would require a significant operational redefining of the concept of status quo for a community.

In the Peruvian village example, as cited throughout this series as a case where innovation failed, hub social networkers and other social networking influencers sought to support and protect a conception of the status quo based on what was and had always been. That approach can at most support gradual and incremental change, but any proposed change that would suddenly and dramatically challenge the “we have always done this” would face real resistance. Ubiquitous computing and communications offer at least the potential for a way around this bottleneck by challenging and even redefining one of the key words in that expression, “we have always done this” – “we.”

When people essentially anywhere and everywhere can and do meaningfully connect and communicate with others from outside of their own geographically local communities, “we” expands and I will add what we have “always done” changes too – and so do the range and variety of key social networkers and influencers.

I am going to continue this discussion in my next series installment by bringing crowd sourcing into this picture, and the active geographically widespread participation of active social networkers who join the conversation with different “we have always done” backgrounds and perspectives – and with high acceptance levels for change per se.

You can find this and related postings in Social Networking and Business and also in Business Strategy and Operations and its continuation page. See also Ubiquitous Computing and Communications – everywhere all the time.

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