Stage 5.6  How to Extend and Stay Flexible

Throughout this analysis we have stressed the value of planning for innovation, utilizing a systematic step-by-step approach based on what we know about how people change their attitudes and behavior. However, once you have a plan, you should not be overly rigid in the way you carry it out. You must remain flexible, ever willing and able to change your plans as you gather more data on the client system and its reactions to the innovation. As you proceed you may, for example, find that the innovation as first conceived and fashioned is completely unacceptable to a large minority and that it divides the community, causing unhealthy stress and conflict. Such a reaction should lead you either to revise the strategy of gaining acceptance, to readapt (redesign, repackage, etc.) the innovation so that it is more acceptable, or perhaps to abandon the innovation altogether in favor of another which is more acceptable to this community, addresses a more significant concern (Stage 0), or diffuses more readily.
To maintain a flexible posture, you should always be prepared to (1) readapt the innovation, (2) shift gears (up, down, reverse), and (3) change your implementation strategy.

Adaptation of the innovation

Even when you have done a very careful job of selecting and adapting the innovation prior to introducing it to the client system, you may still find that more adaptation is necessary. You should be prepared to give concessions to meet various client objections in order that the key elements of the change be accepted. In order to ensure greater understanding of the nature of the innovation, you should be prepared to translate the relevant information into terms that users will find more familiar, more acceptable, and more meaningful.

Shifting gears

Timing and proper pacing are important factors in gaining acceptance. Therefore, you should always be ready to shift gears, to move faster or slower than you had originally planned, depending on the readiness of your clients.

Shifting up

Sometimes you may over-anticipate resistance to the innovation and may have an overly elaborate and extended program for introduction. When you sense that your clients are more sophisticated or more open than anticipated, you should accelerate your program. The time and resources saved can be banked for later use when the going gets rougher (as it will). On the other hand, don't be too hasty about jumping ahead. Remember that much resistance is silent. When you get through with a presentation and ask, "Are there any questions?" and you get no questions, it is probably time to start all over again. Remember that key opinion leaders will often be cautious at first, will want to talk it over with trusted associates, probably without you around. The innovators, on the other hand, may appear to be quick studies, very eager to push ahead into the next stage or even to skip ahead from the concern to the solution to the trial without paying any attention to Stages 1, 2, and 3. These innovators can be helpful and useful to you but they are not the key to gaining acceptance from the larger group.


Shifting down

You may also find that you have expected too much of your clients and that they are unable to absorb information and to adapt to the innovation as rapidly as you had planned. Therefore, there should be enough flexibility in your planning to allow for a relatively long period of time for diffusion of the innovation. Schedules are important because they point you toward specific goals and they keep the whole process moving forward, but they are not sacrosanct. You should be prepared to reset the projected dates for any activity and any stage at any point along the way. Furthermore, you should never proceed to a next stage until you have trustworthy feedback that the group or its key members are with you.


Reversing Gears

The common belief that "if at first you don't succeed, try, try again" may not always be true in gaining acceptance of innovations. Sometimes, more pressure and more hard salesmanship will only increase the resistance. This is why your diagnosis of opposing forces is so important. Frequently you will be more successful in the long run if you retreat in the face of strong opposition, concentrating instead on reducing the motivation for this resistance.

Changing strategy

Always be prepared to change adoption strategy, and always have an alternative strategy in mind as you proceed, looking for any danger signals that what you have been trying is not working with key potential adopters.


Collaborative Posture

It is important to maintain an open and collaborative posture with all clients.  Collaboration works for three reasons: First, it gets the client involved and motivated; second, it improves the quality of the adoption because the client understands it better; and third, it may improve the quality of, the innovation, itself, because clients/users can make valuable contributions in adaptation to their particular settings. ­However, there is an additional reason for choosing collaboration, which is purely ethical: participation is the best do business with anyone even when it is slower and less effective in getting you to where you want to go because it is the right way to treat other human beings. To choose to be purposefully non-collaborative is to break faith with a client; such a stance presumes that the clients are unwilling or unable to innovate on their own initiative and must be coerced, cajoled, or tricked into acceptance.

After all this is said, it must be admitted that sometimes collaboration just will not work. Be flexible about your strategy for gaining acceptance. Use collaboration wherever you can, but remember that other approaches are possible, and sometimes, perhaps, these other approaches are necessary to achieve an end which all desire.


"When a new idea is first introduced to us, we begin to think about and consider it from man different viewpoints. In time, its novelty and strangeness disappears. Eventually, it becomes familiar ... When sufficient time is not allowed for such adjustment those involved in change could become bewildered or apprehensive and develop feelings of opposition."  Judson

Summary of Stage 5 

A successful trial run of any significant change project is a triumph to be  savored, but it is just the beginning of system change. A lot more needs to be done to secure adoption of the trial, and even more needs to be done to spread the effect and the adoption across a larger and larger segment of the client system.

There are two basic ways to view how extended adoption works. There is a predictable individual process by which people as individuals adopt something new, which we might also call the psychology of adoption (covered in 5.1 and 5.3), and, of equal importance, there is the group process, which we might call the sociology of adoption (covered in 5.2 and 5.4.) Under the latter we also discussed the pros and cons of specific tactics of moving groups toward acceptance and adoption (5.4.1 to 5.4.6).  All these tactics need to be put together with our knowledge about individual adoption to orchestrate an over-all strategy (5.5), keeping in mind that any strategy, however carefully laid out, must be flexible, allowing a change of course or even a move to an alternative plan.