#28 Diffusion

Diffusion, Adoption and Reinvention

“Thus we see that the diffusion of innovations is a social process, even more than a technical matter.”
Everett M. Rogers, Diffusion of Innovation

Things rarely diffuse (get adopted) smoothly. Diffusion of Innovation is one of my favorite books and I strongly recommend it for a deeper understanding.

You're likely familiar with the graphic above. Originally published in 1962 with Everett Rodger's initial Diffusion research, it was reinvented in the 90s as the "adoption of technology curve", which is the same thing but with a "chasm" between innovators and early adopters. That chasm, in regards to tech, is often a complexity gap and/or a regulatory gap.

As technology improves exponentially, human behavior and regulatory efforts are often unable to keep up.

Some Basics To Know

Fundamental factors of diffusion to brush up on before getting into the fun stuff.

Credibility, What Is It?

It depends. Here's a multiple-choice test for you:

You have just been diagnosed with a deadly brain tumor and surgery is the only option. Fortunately, this is a fairly common procedure in which the average success rate is 80%.

You are given the opportunity to choose your surgeon and are presented with two options:

  • Option 1: Dr. Williams. Dr. Williams is highly respected and has the highest success rate in the country, over 94%. He is also highly feared, and not well-liked, because he doesn't want to meet his patients, know anything about their personal lives or talk to their families. He certainly doesn't go out of his way to make anyone feel better before or after the procedure.

  • Option 2: Dr. Smith. Dr Smith has an above-average success rate of 86%. He is well-liked and spends a lot of time with the patient and the family to help them understand what is going on. The medical community has taken notice of how he makes everyone involved feel as safe as possible.

Which surgeon do you choose?

It depends on where you fall on the diffusion curve. In studies like this, an overwhelming number of patients choose Option 2, Dr. Smith, even though his success rate is lower.


Because Dr. Smith has more credibility with the majority than Dr. Williams does. To understand this, we must look at how credibility is perceived differently by different people, depending on where they find themselves on the diffusion curve.

Innovators and the earliest of early adopters bias competence credibility: They assign credibility to the better tech, the better fundamentals, and the better results based on data. They, themselves, also tend to be more competent and are able to discern the efficacy of something based on technical, whitepapers and specs.

The further to the right we move, the more people bias safety credibility: they assign credibility to what appears to be safe to them based on what other people are doing.

Safety comes from information. Information, in the context of diffusion research, is probably not what you think.

Information: What Is It?

Another multiple-choice question for you:

A friend of yours sees that your parents are struggling to pay the bills with their local bakery. Wanting to provide help she says to your parents:

"It's super easy. Just write down your avatar while we are at lunch and then I will review it and I'll add pixels to your website when we get back"

Did your friend provide information?

  • Yes

  • No

Again, it depends. Your friend provided data to an audience (your parents). If that data increases the uncertainty they feel, it's innovation. If it closes the gap of uncertainty, it's information. More than likely, your parents have no idea what an avatar is (or they think it's a giant blue alien from a James Cameron movie) nor do they know what a pixel is.

Your friend has not provided information or safety. In fact, she has likely provided innovation and decreased certainty as well as perceived safety.

You can see why diffusion is never smooth, yea?

Competent people (in space or industry) think they are helping by providing information when they are actually hurting by creating uncertainty with innovation.


Innovation Diffuses When It Turns Into Information

more specifically:

Innovation is adopted or created by innovators, who, along with the earliest adopters adopt innovation based on tech and specs. Most new things die right here because it will not continue to be adopted by the early majority unless it is turned into information; presented in a way that closes the gap of uncertainty - oftentimes this means it has to be "dumbed down" which most innovators refuse to do.

Only after the early majority adopts it can the rest of the market get the "safety credibility" they need from seeing other people around them using it.

I've done deep dives on the 5 adoption decisions and how to utilize them, so I'm not going to go into that now. Just grab the book. Instead, I'm going to share some of my favorite examples.


Because it's showing you people like you doing things that provides you with information. If that doesn't make sense, read the above again.

Okay, there is one more key component of adoption:

The amount of reinvention allowed is directly correlated to the degree and magnitude of adoption.

Viagra, for example, was invented for heart disease and tested as a solution for headaches. They found one of the side effects (yes, boners) was way more appealing to the masses. Had they taken a dogmatic stance and said "No, this is for heart disease and only heart disease" Viagra would not have near the mass adoption it does today.

In other words, using things for ONLY the purpose they were originally created, or not allowing reinvention, will often stifle the adoption of something new.

Blockchain purists/maxis are one of the biggest limits to adoption (along with regulatory effort taking forever) due to their dogmatic stance on what it is and the select few ways it should be used.

Diffusion and Reinvention

Example 1: Laurel Portie and The Solvable Problem

The Solvable Problem (tm) is a concept created by Dan Nicholson. It takes your financial goals and turns them into something that can be solved. I strongly recommend Dan's book Rigging The Game to learn more.

Laurel learned it, applied it, and was able to fund her 5-year goals in just a few weeks. But then she did something extraordinary ...reinvented the concept to apply to another domain: advertising.

All of her students are learning to advertise. By taking the concept from one domain and applying it to another she contributed to the adoption of the new concept AND drastically improved her own program.

Laurel is an early adopter of conceptual frameworks, but many of her students are not. We could have tried to shove The Solvable Problem down their throats and it would have not been helpful to them. Presenting it and helping them apply it in a context they are familiar with, Laurel enables the Solvable Problem concept to help more people by turning it into information for her audience.

Laurel breaks it all down here, in her words:

Textbook diffusion.

Example 2: Doc The Wolf

Kevin Chu is a student of the Guardian Academy and the Wolf Den, where I teach most of my core concepts and principles. It's powered by the blockchain, so access requires an NFT.

There are two very natural limits to the diffusion of Guardian Academy and Wolf Den:

  • The concepts are advanced and often counterintuitive, so the level of "information" and "safety" to the masses is going to be low.

  • They live on the blockchain, which creates the same tech-based barrier as above. Information and safety of the blockchain are low to the masses.

Kevin used the image of his NFT to create a character: Doc The Wolf. Doc The Wolf went on to write a children's book based on the core teachings of TGA and the Wolf Den. In doing so, Kevin has diffused the core concepts to a wider audience where books with this kind of content are information and buying from Amazon are safe.

There is a high degree of reinvention in both examples, especially Doc The Wolf. And I love it. Any NFT project or owner that thinks "But everything has to happen on chain" is severely handicapping the potential reach and positive impact of the innovation they bring to the market.

I also love it because I rely on people like Laurel and Kevin.

I decided a long time ago that I do not want to build things for the masses, I prefer to live on the edge of innovation. Early adopters like Kevin and Laurel who understand how to take innovation and turn it into information for their audiences are more important than the innovators themselves, they are the bridge between idea and impact.

What Does It Mean For You?

It depends.

I have found a sweet spot for me. On one side of me, I have extreme innovation to play with, implement and share. On the other, I have people like Kevin, Laurel, our CCA students, and Guardians who understand how to diffuse the information in a way that benefits themselves and their audience.

Your job, in my opinion, is to figure out where you sit on the curve. If you are an early adopter there is a great opportunity for you if you can learn to learn innovation into information. If you are like me, you will have to accept that you have the most impact when other people get credit and continue to feed those people things they can reinvent.

If you're a later adopter, don't try and be an early one. You will be stressed out all the time. If you are an innovator don't try and be a mass-market guy/girl. You will hate it. They will hate you.

There is no right answer. It's about understanding where you sit on the adoption curve and then doing the following:

  • Consume data from and interact with people in one section to the left of you.

  • Reinvent that data into information to diffuse to the people one section to the right of you.

This makes you incredibly valuable to the people that tend to be earlier than you [you spread their ideas] and even more valuable to those that tend to be later than you [you are a trusted advisor]. The further you get from your sweet spot, the less effective you become and the more irritating everything is.

Earlier is not better. Later is not better. The proper place and pace for you is better. That is where you find the most value for yourself and become the most valuable to everyone else.

Like anything else, it's simple:

Know yourself. Play Your Game.


PS. This AI newsletter is pretty sweet. It's the only thing I look forward to in my inbox each week. (I don't write it)