What the Internet, Kindergarten, Hybrid Corn Seeds, and Lottery Tickets Have In Common

Everything that was once “innovative”—The Internet, kindergarten classes, the use of seeds, and thousands of other innovations—diffused at the same approximate rate.**

Think about that. Maybe it’s just me, but when I learned that, I had a moment akin to when you first learn about gravity and feathers.

Plotted over time, diffusion tends to follow the following five-stage pattern:

(1) After a period of research and development, the innovation is ‘invented’ by a small group (2.5% of the all the eventual adopters)

(2) A slightly larger group of early adopters view the innovation favorably, and adopt it. (13.5%)

(3) As the innovation proves successful, critical mass is reached, and the early majority join the crowd. (34%)

(4) Rapid diffusion continues until the late majority adopt the innovation. (34%)

(5) The laggards adopt the innovation. (16%)

To use an example literally right in front of me:

  • In the 1970s, computers were few and far between, and what we now call the Internet was a very basic e-mail and file exchange system operated by the U.S. Defense Department.

  • In 1994, 3% of public classrooms had access to the Internet.

  • In 2004, that number is 94%.

  • As of 2010, that number was near (but not at) 100%.

One more example:

  • Puerto Rico adopted a public lottery system in 1934.

  • New Hampshire followed in 1964.

  • New York adopted a state lottery in 1967.

  • Today, 44 states and most of the territories have lotteries.

There are interesting reasons why 6 states do not have public lottery systems. The story of what doesn’t diffuse is just as interesting and telling as the story of what does. More on that some other time.

**Everett Rogers is the seminal diffusion of innovations scholar. Google his name. He is a big deal.


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