Diffusion of Innovation: How Change Occurs

The speaker is Professor Bill Henderson is at the Indiana University School of Law. [These are my notes from a private global meeting of large law firm knowledge management personnel.]

The Diffusion of Innovation field was invented by Everett Rogers. He wrote his first book in 1962, examining why farmers were not adopting the latest and best farming techniques. The key was to be able to demonstrate that the new techniques actually yield better corn. Once the farmers saw the evidence of their eyes, they were prepared to consider the new techniques.

The path of innovation is especially challenging in the law firm world. In the Henderson’s view, a lot of lawyers tend to be very literal, very concrete. This means that they will have a hard time talking to innovators, let alone being early adopters. This poses a big problem for any person in a law firm who is trying to innovate (e.g., knowledge management personnel). For Henderson, the key is to find early adopters who are open to change AND are influential enough to attract the positive attention of their colleagues who are later adopters.

In the legal industry, we have the Artisan Guild (ranging from criminal defenders/ solo practitioners to Big Law). They  focus on the Bespoke and Standardized work identified by Richard Susskind. On the opposite end, we have the Low Cost Providers (e.g., legal publishers and eDiscovery vendors). They are focused on Susskind’s Commoditized work. In between is the “green zone” we have lots of opportunity to master Systematized and Productized work: In-House Vertical Integration, New Law (e.g., Axiom), Lean Law (e.g., Seyfarth), TechLaw (KM & Analytics vendors: e.g., kCura, Reccomind, PLC), People Law (e.g., Modria and Legal Force).

Variations Determining the Rate of Adoption

  • Perceived attributes of innovations that influence an individual to adopt change
    • Relative advantage = How improved an innovation is over the previous generation.
    • Compatibility = The level of compatibility that an innovation has to be assimilated into an individual’s life.
    • Complexity = If the innovation is perceived as complicated or difficult to use, an individual is unlikely to adopt it.
    • Trialability = How easily an innovation may be experimented. If a user is able to test an innovation, the individual will be more likely to adopt it.
    • Observability = The extent that an innovation is visible to others. An innovation that is more visible will drive communication among the individual’s peers and personal networks and will in turn create more positive or negative reactions. (Metrics help with this.)
  • Type of innovation Decision
    • Optional
    • Collective
    • Authority (e.g., when clients speak, law firms must listen)
  • Communication Channel (e.g., mass media or interpersonal)
  • Nature of the social system (e.g., its norms)
  • Extent of Change Agents’ Promotion Efforts