Have you ever compared the relative sizes of things in the world using a logarithmic scale? If not, try playing with this. It’s an interactive site comparing the sizes of things in the universe, from the smallest understandable concepts to the entirety of the (known) universe. Try starting from the largest items and move toward the smaller things, just to get an idea of the scale of our individual experience, compared to both the micro and macro universes.
Once you’re done playing with that, compare these three articles:
- Wejnert, Barbara (2002) Integrating Models of Diffusion of Innovations. Annual Review of Sociology 28, 297-396.
- Agre, Phil (2005). How to Be a Leader in Your Field: A Guide for Students in Professional Schools.
- Hong, Jason (2011). Design, Functionality, and Diffusion of Innovations. Communications of the ACM (blog)
The “I couldn’t take the time to actually read things,” summary and comparison.
In each of these articles, it seems like the same concept (diffusion of innovation and ideas based on certain environmental and agent-oriented factors) is being discussed, but on different levels. The first article (Wejnert) discusses innovation and diffusion on a global and societal scale, discussing concepts at an academic level. Even the language of the article, compared with the others, feels much more lofty:
“As these and other studies suggest, the spread of innovations with private consequences occurs largely due to spatial and temporal contiguity between a source of a new practice and a potential adopter.”
The second article focuses the topic on a professional level, targeting the ideas of innovation, adoption, and personal leadership to a group of individuals entering a specific profession, rather than the larger, global community. As a result, many of the “academic” details mentioned in the Wejnert article were omitted, replaced with practical advice and information for the development of professional communities.
Compared to the language of the first article, the second article reads much more like an article in a semi-professional magazine:
“In the old days the leadership-averse could hide out in bureaucracies. But as institutions are turned inside out by technology, globalization, and rising public and client expectations of every sort, the refuges are disappearing. Every professional’s job is now the front lines, and the skills of leadership must become central to everyone’s conception of themselves as a professional.”
The last article focuses the idea of innovation and leadership even further, applying it to a specific individual, working on a specific project. Although it does discuss the ideas of innovation and the adoption and spread of new ideas, Hong focuses on the impacts these ideas have on function and design, specifically as applied to the relationship between a designer and user. The article, unlike the previous two, is written in an obvious blog format, incorporating specific personal experiences and opinions into the article.
“To a large extent, I do agree about the point about the importance of functionality. If we had a system that could predict tomorrow’s stock market prices but was completely unusable, I’m sure we’d still see a lot of people making the effort to learn how to use it. However, functionality and design aren’t separate things… [Design] also includes the internal “skeleton” of how the application is organized, the conceptual model, and metaphors conveyed to the end-users, as well as its functionality.”
To put it simply, each of the three articles was discussing the same or similar ideas, but just applied to different environmental scales (global, local communities, and personal).
Still don’t get it?
Here’s an example:
“In 5 years, one will not need a post-high school degree (that is, bachelor’s, master’s, or beyond) to be successful.”
Ridiculous sounding? Good. According to Dr. James Dator, professor of Futures Studies at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, “Any useful statement about the futures should appear to be ridiculous.” That’s not to say that I’m just throwing out a random statement that seems unfeasible, but a statement that only seems ridiculous when thought about given current conditions. After all, think about your own world 5 years ago. Did you ever imagine that the iPad, what is essentially a very large iPod Touch, would be successful? How about 5 years before that? Did you ever imagine that something like the iPhone would be invented and change the world? Looking back at it though, one should be able to see the trends leading up to these events.
So where do I get the gall to make such a ridiculous statement? I started with this article (found on Lifehacker, of course) about obtaining a free online college education. Turns out I had actually used some of these sites (particularly the MIT courses) in my actual college education. That is: My college professor used free material from MIT in my PAID college education. On top of finding free college material, this article in Forbes on the idea of a “free college education for all” supports the idea that a college education from an “accredited” university may not become so relevant in the future. Rather, what will be important is the knowledge that one actually has, regardless of the certifications accompanying the individual.
So where do the readings come in?
If we apply Agre’s analysis and ideas (that is, innovations and leadership on a community scale) to my statement, one could imagine that upon recognizing the economic benefits of a free college education, students (i.e. consumers of a university education) could begin to adopt the idea, eventually changing the behaviors of other students, particularly across the individual fields of engineering, education, and other schools. As leaders begin to emerge who have discovered the value of knowledge (as opposed to obtaining a degree), such as Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Ty Warner, and Harrison Ford, many more individuals may follow their lead. In addition, Wejnert’s approach takes this idea a step further, detailing the specific processes that would affect the diffusion of a “knowledge-centric” education, opposed to a “certificate-centric” education.
Wejnert’s discussion of media and socio-economic factors would be particularly important in drawing attention to the idea, especially as more individuals are exposed to successful individuals “adopting” a knowledge-centric education. The social networking factors discussed in Wejnert’s article and detailed in the Agre article would also begin to play a major role as “early adopters” began to emulate the innovators.
In addition to the methods discussed in the readings…
Attention could be drawn to this issue by using some of the methods detailed in this article. First, using “reverse psychology,” the idea of a knowledge-centric idea could be made appealing by presenting a less desirable alternative: the current education model. Next, by emphasizing related ideas, such as correspondence learning and trade schools, the idea that a knowledge-centric education could be made more appealing. Finally, by “underselling” the idea, or making it more compatible with current cultural and societal norms, individuals could be made to feel less alienated from the idea.
The Hong blog discusses the details of how to “wrap up” the idea, presenting the idea of a knowledge-centric education as a complete package, rather than just an alternative to the current system. Hong’s blog encompass the idea behind many successful products, such as those developed by Apple; both design and innovation are key, creating a unique, usable product, rather than a simple tool.