How do ideas spread?

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Slow Ideas – an article from The New Yorker written by Atul Gawande, tag line is Some innovations spread fast. How do you speed the ones that don’t?  Offers great insight into the process of changing behavior, how an idea becomes the new normal, and how the trust to make big changes is built through incremental personal contact.  Gawande, a medical doctor and a wonderful writer, uses examples of innovation from the field of medicine.  Two are from medical history, anesthesia and antiseptics, and two are from our time, a simple treatment for cholera and methods of preventing newborn deaths in India.

The ideas illustrated by these stories apply across disciplines, to anyone or any organization trying to effect change.

In the era of the iPhone, Facebook, and Twitter, we’ve become enamored of ideas that spread as effortlessly as ether. We want frictionless, “turnkey” solutions to the major difficulties of the world—hunger, disease, poverty. We prefer instructional videos to teachers, drones to troops, incentives to institutions. People and institutions can feel messy and anachronistic. They introduce, as the engineers put it, uncontrolled variability.

But technology and incentive programs are not enough. “Diffusion is essentially a social process through which people talking to people spread an innovation,” wrote Everett Rogers, the great scholar of how new ideas are communicated and spread. Mass media can introduce a new idea to people. But, Rogers showed, people follow the lead of other people they know and trust when they decide whether to take it up. Every change requires effort, and the decision to make that effort is a social process.

Thanks to Erin Peavey for posting this on the Healthcare Innovation by Design LinkedIn group.  The image is from a FastCompany post about networks and the importance of relationship quality to innovation and the spread of ideas.

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