How to implement new ideas without risking your reputation

Mess = Obligation – (Planning, Commitment & Enthusiasm)

“Bureaucratic processes can cause overwhelm in your team. Overwhelmed people, lose enthusiasm and become frustrated.  Frustrated people become negative and negative people generally speak poorly of the person in authority who initiated the mess.” 

According to Rogers, Moore, and Fogg, if you want to introduce a new idea or technology and actually want it to get adopted and then implemented, follow these steps:

  1. Identify each user as a specific adopter type.
  2. Introduce the solution to the innovators
  3. Get their adoption and approval by ensuring the solution makes it easy to take the action.
  4. Ensure the solution delivers sufficient benefit to the user that they are internally motivated to take the action.
  5. Allow the opinions and references of the innovators to facilitate the adoption of the next group.
  6. Do not proceed to subsequent groups until you have full adoption and endorsement from the current group.

Please, let me explain…

In 1962, Everett Rogers, a professor of communication studies created a concept he called the Diffusion of Innovation theory ( bare with me…) that has been recently popularized in Geoffrey Moore’s book, Crossing the Chasm. Rogers and Moore explained how, when and why some new ideas and technology spread and are successful while others fall short. This concept can help explain how some government organizations fail to get the basic innovations like smartphones deployed in the field while other, small agencies can successfully deploy an entire communications platform in the matter of a day.

According to Rogers, when introducing an idea or solution, you should categorize your team and even your supervisor and systematically expand, leveraging the credibility of the groups as you go. Here are the characteristics of each group and how to identify them.


Identifying your team

“First, find your innovators. They are a rare breed of visionaries who have the insight to match an emerging technology to a strategic opportunity.”

Innovators – Innovators are willing to take risks, have the highest social status in your agency, the also have the closest contact with other innovators. Their risk tolerance allows them to adopt technologies that may ultimately fail. They generally bring “unsanctioned” solutions they discover while experimenting off duty and use them for their work.

Early Adopters – These individuals opinion is the most valuable to your team members. Early adopters also have a high social status in your organization and are more socially forward than later adopters. They are more discreet in choices than innovators. Once there is some evidence from the innovators that the solution has credibility and value, they will take some risks but not without official authorization.

Early Majority – They adopt an innovation after a varying degree of time and evidence is gathered. It is significantly longer than the innovators and early adopters. Early Majority have above average social status, contact with early adopters and seldom hold positions of leadership in a system

Late Majority – They adopt an innovation after the average person. These individuals approach an innovation with a high degree of skepticism and after the majority of your team has adopted the innovation. Late Majority are typically skeptical about an innovation, have below average social status, in contact with others in late majority and the early majority and offer very little valued opinion.

Laggards – They are the last to adopt an innovation. Unlike some of the previous categories, individuals in this category show little to no valued opinion. These individuals typically have an aversion to change-agents. Laggards typically tend to be focused on “traditions”, lowest social status, lowest financial liquidity, oldest among adopters, and in contact with only family and close friends.

Moore adds that if you try to include everyone at the beginning of the process, you are doomed. Each group references the group before it and will respond with resistance if your idea or solution has not been endorsed. If each group’s experiences are managed correctly, you will gain mainstream acceptance and praise for your expertise and contributions.

Moore warns that the largest barrier to your success lies between the early adopters and the early majority. Moore refers to this as crossing the chasm. Failure to navigate the chasm will result in the failure, criticism, and negativity I have seen first hand.

“Moore points out that the largest barrier to your success lies between the early adopters and the early majority.”

Where to start

So let’s say you’ve selected your innovators and you are ready to expose them to your idea or solution. The problem now becomes, how do I ensure they will endorse it?

Let’s use the example of a safety check-in conducted every two hours. You want your team to make a call or push a button to achieve this. (… and then tell their early adopter friends how awesome it is and what a visionary you are.)

Stanford Professor BJ Fogg’s seminal work on behavior design, explains that if there is a trigger such as a check-in time, and you prompt them for a response and expect them to check-in, you have to accomplish two things. Firstly, provide the ability or, said differently, make it easy for them to check-in when prompted. Second, provide a solution with enough benefit to them personally that it creates internal motivation to check-in. In this case, not having to compete with VHF radio traffic, use an unreliable satellite phone or drive great distances to make a phone call may be enough to motivate them to use the solution. (If you save them that much of a headache, they will use your solution and declare a national holiday in your name!)

Professor Fogg shares this graph to explain how the odds of getting the desired behavior is related to motivation, ability and a prompt.

In the case of the smartphones mentioned earlier, the desired outcome was to use the new phones to improve safety and efficiency. Unfortunately, the users we talked two were frustrated that they had to carry a second phone and keep it charged (reduced internal motivation). Moreover, for some users, it was a completely different type of phone than they were used to. This required a new learning curve and an additional investment in energy and effort (reduced ability). To make matters worse, most of their work was in remote areas where there was no cell service. (reduced motivation and ability)

This may have not been a big deal to innovators who are interested and self-motivated to test, experiment and overcome obstacles but this was launched to a broader group. As a result, every late majority or laggard who experienced a challenge used their experience as evidence of incompetent and uncaring leadership. This was not an ideal outcome and not the leadership’s fault.

Conversely, the Regional District – Okanagan Similkameen had responders spread over a large area protecting homes from the floods. They adopted YodelME during the crisis and because it made the responders lives easier, did not require training, additional equipment or new behaviors, the platform was adopted across the entire incident in a few days. When the early innovators and early adopters were introduced they quickly taught the others to use the system so they could all communicate. (shameless pitch concluded!)

The problem with motivation

Since motivation is a key component here, we should discuss it in detail. For eternity, leaders have been looking for ways to motivate their teams. There are two types of motivation. There is external motivation. This is when leaders use incentives, discipline or a proverbial gun to the head to prod the team into compliance. In my experience and the experience of our clients, this has a low rate of success.

The second and more influential type is internal motivation. This is where the persons own beliefs and desires drive them to seek an outcome or take the desired action for their own benefit, not yours. Internal motivation is the powerful force for good that Professor Fogg is harnessing in his model. When you apply internal motivation, it is important to put yourself in your team’s shoes. Determine what is important to them and what their priorities are.


Your team will not always have the same level of motivation. Professor Fogg points out that motivation is not static, rather, it fluctuates throughout the day, week, month and year. Motivation changes due to influences from the user’s personal life including relationships, past experiences, diet, sleep, and exercise.


This fluctuation means if you want your team to use an unfamiliar phone, keep two phones operational, fight with a radio, or drive to find service, you have to find ways to make them see the personal benefits in these activities. If you don’t, you will have to catch them at their peaks. Alternatively, you can cross the chasm by providing a solution that the innovators and early adopters find simple, valuable and fun.