How to get radical innovations adopted

A new book explains the surprising extent to which activist communities can influence the adoption of radical innovations.

Want success for your radical innovation? Think like a community organizer.

That’s one of the messages of Market Rebels, a new book from Hayagreeva Rao, a professor at the Stanford Graduate School of Business. In his book, Rao takes a fascinating look at the role activist communities can play in the diffusion of radical innovations. According to Rao, radical innovations often get accepted — or rejected — when a group mobilizes around a cause they care about (which he calls a “hot cause”) through collective activities that built a sense of community or identity (which he calls “cool mobilization”).

Some examples: Rao describes the role that computer hobbyists and their clubs played in launching a personal computing movement in the 1960s and 1970s. He also details how automobile clubs helped legitimize the automobile in the U.S. in the late 19th and early 20th century — by organizing ”reliability contests” that allowed the public to see the capabilities of automobiles as a form of transportation.

Similarly, Rao traces the more recent rise of microbreweries in the U.S. to the emergence in the late 1970s of a home-brewing community that valued craft production of unique beers. Activist communities can also work against innovation, however: In one chapter, Rao describes how activists limited biotechnology research in Germany. 

You can get a taste of Rao’s arguments in an adaptation from Market Rebels, published in the January issue of The McKinsey Quarterly. But the book itself is definitely worth reading.