Spreading Ideas – What role do you play?

Spreading Ideas – What role do you play?

Posted Dec 11, 2010

                                                        The Scene

Recently, I attended a family gathering. As friends were welcome, a lot of people were in attendance. I knew it was going to be an all day affair so I brought my Kindle.  Little did I know that I would serve as Tony Little at the function and would be showcasing and demonstrating the product most of the day.  I was asked to talk about it at least five times, often to more than one person.

If you would have seen me discussing its features and benefits, you would have wondered if I had an assistant waiting in another room with a box of Kindles listening for the cue, "Now, what if I said that you could leave here today with your very own Kindle for only $139?"


Before seeing the Kindle, up close, a lot of my family members and friends didn't see the value of a dedicated e-reader. Most of them are iPhone and iPad owners and believe that it is the last word in technology. The fact that my family is so invested in Apple technologies is mostly due to my brother, a computer programmer, who extols the virtue of Apple products before and long after they hit the market.

To the regular eye, my brother and I were doing what people have always done when they acquired or found out about a great product that no one else possessed; and that's talk about it. In academic and business circles its better known as Diffusion of Innovation. Popularized by communication scholar, Everett Rogers, in the 1960s, Diffusion of Innovation (DOI) charts how ideas spread to the masses. Those ideas can be in the form of messages, products or services.

Here's a chart that displays the five stages:

As you can see the five stages are:


Early Adopters

Early Majority

Late Majority; and



My brother's influence is as an innovator. He is the type of person that you can never, ever, surprise when it comes to computer technology and items such as smart phones, e-readers, computer tablets, etc. Innovators are the individuals who know what stages of development projects are in and the problems developers are having. They are also keenly aware of launch dates, availability and even potential problems the new product may have. But they are willing to overlook potential flaws and pay hefty prices because the benefits for them owning the product is so much greater than any potential glitches. These are the people who camp out for releases of video games or stand in line for hours when Apple offers a new product.

Early Adopter

Following the innovator is the early adopter. Early adopters are a bit more cautious. They can see the benefits of an idea or product early on but proceed with care because of the risk. The issues that innovators ignore and realize is inherent in first generation technologies is precisely what causes early adopters to hold back. They know that a second edition performs better and will have a slightly lower price. Early Adopters usually tend to have an innovator in their circle as well who lauds the genius of products and motivates them to buy.   

My influence with the Kindle, I would argue, is as an early adopter (the back end though). I was keenly aware of the Kindle when it first came out and wrote a few articles about it (even before Oprah made them popular), but I didn't like the price and could see that many publishers were not offering their authors' books through Kindle. The cost and knowing that many publishers were not on board kept me from purchasing it. 

Early Majority

If people purchase a Kindle now I believe they will be in the early majority.

The early majority can help make the product ubiquitous and the price will drop substantially. (As an aside, I believe an $89 price point would help the Kindle along too.) People in the early majority have a sense that the new technology, product or service is not going away. They also begin to notice the 'changes in the landscape' that occur as a result of the new technology and decide that they don't want to be on the tail end of new developments. In reference to e-readers, it is becoming obvious that they are here to stay, as the prices are becoming lower and the number of competing models that are popping up such as Barnes & Noble's Nook, Sony e-readers and other generic (or lesser known) e-readers are beginning to creep into the market.

Late Majority

Following the early majority is the late majority. You know that you are in the late majority if you are the person in your 'circle' that is constantly being asked why you haven't adopted a new technology or are continually asked why you don't use a particular service. People in the late majority are the individuals who realize that they are beginning to miss out on certain benefits or privileges because so many people have adopted a technology that products and services begin to be offered exclusively through the new vehicle and not in the old. This will definitely be the case with e-readers as many new writers will begin to sell versions of their work only through these devices. It is only a matter of time before superstars begin to emerge and will offer their work only through e-readers. This will occur on a consistent enough basis to make people who fall in the late majority category realize that they need to jump on board before they are left alone in the station and wondering what to do next.


Finally, we have the laggards. These individuals are the ones who resist a new technology, product or service with all the force they can muster. They cite reasons such as:

It is too complex

It is too expensive

I am too old

I like the old way better

It is just one more ______ that I have to deal with

They may even say their reasons are based on politics or principles. Whatever the case may be for some reason they are the last people who have yet to adapt to the 'new world.' We all have known these people at some point. They are the people who refused to buy a DVD player when it became obvious that new movies would no longer be put out on VCR tapes. Or it was the last person in your group to buy a cellphone or now-a-days a smartphone. For years my grandmother watched a black and white floor model television, the ones that had what looked like huge wooden cabinets attached on either side and served no other purpose than decoration. It took up a lot of space and was right next to her record-playing machine of similar size. She refused to get rid of it even when her children offered to buy her a current model. When the TV eventually went on the 'fritz' she finally relented and allowed them to buy her a brand new color television. But get this. She removed her old television from the frame of the floor model and inserted her new television in the old frame.

Unbelievable, but it demonstrates the lengths that laggards will go to in order to avoid the inevitable.

Now, where we fall on the diffusion of innovation scale will depend a lot on our interests. It is hard to be on the cutting edge if you are not paying attention to something. Education and definitely, income, play a role in whether you are in the innovator, early adopter, early majority, late majority or laggard category. Yet, we all know individuals who regardless of income, age, education, etc., that fit into the innovator and early adopter categories.

Did I convince anyone to buy?

Out of all my Kindle presentations I only know of one person who bought one afterwards, my father and another with a promise to buy later, my mother. Yet, I know I did my part to push forward a technology on the diffusion of innovation scale. What role do you play in promoting products or services?

Pop PsychologyBakari Akil II, Ph.D. is the author of Pop Psychology - The Psychology of Pop Culture and Everyday Life! You can also check out his page on Twitter.

About the Author

Bakari Akil II, Ph.D.

Bakari Akil II, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of communication at Florida State College of Jacksonville.

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