Acceptance of new ideas

Today Seth Godin posted about inertia and product adoption. So now I’m thinking again about how we communicate about Square Peg Foundation, our mission and our programs.

Of course, the whole idea behind Square Pegs is a bit new for most people, and getting people to accept new ideas, or even small changes to their old ideas, is hard. People don’t pay attention and even when they do, they resist change.


Seth makes the connection to the ideas of Geoff Moore’s “Crossing the Chasm”, which I agree applies to ideas just as much as technology. In our experience with Square Pegs, for example, there are some folks who just “get it” or who are actively looking for something new, and they are influential in bringing in the next wave, called “early adopters”. But then there’s a big jump required before you can start to get to everyone else. That big jump is the Chasm. As I said, I believe that this model is as valid for ideas as it is for technology products.

It’s also useful to think about this in terms of cognitive frames, a theory which got a lot of attention in politics recently because of George Lakoff’s work. The idea is that we all have a world view built of these Frames, and it’s difficult to consider ideas that don’t fit our Frames, and it’s very difficult to change a Frame. As Lakoff explains:

Carry out the following directive:

Don’t think of an elephant!

It is, of course, a directive that cannot be carried out — and that is the point. In order to purposefully not think of an elephant, you have to think of an elephant. There are four morals.

Moral 1. Every word evokes a frame.

A frame is a conceptual structure used in thinking. The word elephant evokes a frame with an image of an elephant and certain knowledge: an elephant is a large animal (a mammal) with large floppy ears, a trunk that functions like both a nose and a hand, large stump-like legs, and so on.

Moral 2: Words defined within a frame evoke the frame.

The word trunk, as in the sentence “Sam picked up the peanut with his trunk,” evokes the Elephant frame and suggests that “Sam” is the name of an elephant.

Moral 3: Negating a frame evokes the frame.

Moral 4: Evoking a frame reinforces that frame.

Every frame is realized in the brain by neural circuitry. Every time a neural circuit is activated, it is strengthened.

So in communicating about Square Peg Foundation’s mission and programs, it’s important that we think carefully about how we communicate, and it’s also important that we engage those “early adopters” in the Crossing the Chasm model. So how are we doing?

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