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Unlocking the Power of Innovation

Research on the diffusion of innovation has found that social interaction plays a crucial role. Most people do not evaluate the merits of an innovation on the basis of scientific studies; they depend on the subjective evaluations of “early adopters” and model their behaviors after people they respect and trust.11 For that reason, choosing the right team members and opinion leaders (i.e., people within an organization who informally influence the actions and beliefs of others) is critical to efforts to diffuse innovation.

Depending on the project, you may want to try to identify the opinion leaders that would be helpful to involve (assuming they are open to change and new ideas). Interpersonal communication works best when the people communicating the message are respected opinion leaders within the same staff group whose behavior they are trying to change. For example, an innovation to change the behavior of receptionists will often move quickly if it is led by a respected receptionist or office manager. But this person would probably not be as effective at getting physicians in a medical group to change their communication style with patients.

Ask people whose opinion they respect. Who do they follow when they have adopted new clinical or improvement practices? Who do your staff look to when they want advice or information about the organization?