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Ideas That Spread


Disciplines > Communication > Diffusion > Ideas That Spread

Relative advantage | Compatibility | Complexity | Trialability | Observability | See also


Some ideas and products spread faster than others. Everett Rogers, in his study of the diffusion of innovations through societies, identified five perceived characteristics that help increase the mobility of ideas.

Relative advantage

Ideas often solve problems for which another solution already exists. Changing from one idea or product to another requires some cost, even if it is just the emotional trauma of ditching something that was known and appreciated for a while.


Product manufacturers often add more features to new products than competitors or older products. The might even make things pink to appeal to young girls.


An idea is easier to accept if it fits in with existing ideas and mental models. If it does not, then significant rebuilding or restructuring of concepts may be needed, which would increases effort and so decreases the chance of adoption.


When mobile phones were invented, the idea of a phone already existed, making it more attractive. They also were made so you could phone fixed land-line phones as well as other cell phones.


A product or idea that is simple to understand and use is easier to learn and so adopt.

If I try to use something and find it too difficult, I am less likely to blame myself and more likely to blame the product.

In selling something, it is common to find a grossly simplified model being presented in order to get the idea across.


The structure of atoms is often presented as simple balls that stick together, rather than quarks and other quanta in EM fields. 


If I can safely try out the idea without having to throw away the system I am using already, I can remove the risk that the idea will not work for me.


Shops often have products out on display so customers can try them out. Likewise colleges may give short 'taster' learning sessions before the student signs up to the full course.


Like trialability, being able to see the idea or product, particularly in action, removes the perceived problem of having to fully adopt something to find out whether or not it works for you.


A producer of a new type of vegetable gives cookery demonstrations in shopping malls to spread ideas about how easy it is to prepare and how attractive it is in presentation.

See also

Framing principle, Schema, Simplicity Principle


Rogers, E.M. (1962). Diffusion of Innovations. Glencoe: Free Press


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