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Innovation characteristics and their role in
the movement from early adopter to the
early majority.

Student number: 119016427

05, 2015

Words: 10,920

Dissertation submitted to the University of Leicester in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree
of BA Management Studies

Abstract
The reason behind technology spreading is littered with a large variety of theories and
models. This paper sets out to explain how the characteristics of an innovation are part
of that journey through society. Currently academic literature has looked at innovation
characteristics in general but not in particular, the jump from early adopter to the early
majority. This jump is the largest an innovation can take in its journey to the mass
consumer market, this study looks to address how innovation characteristics relate to
this movement. A technology currently looking to make that jump is consumer 3d
printing that looks to revolutionise the way we make and do things.

Utilising a series of interviews with leading 3D print figures, this study identifies the role
innovation characteristics play in the movement from the early adopter to the early
majority. By exploring five key characteristics and applying them to this context it
broadens the understanding and scope of the theory of diffusion. The primary focus
being what characteristics show when applied and which characteristics play a more
vital role in this adoption transfer. Finally, the research concludes that adoption is
primarily based on the ability of the early adopters to mould the innovation
characteristics for the early majority.

1

Contents
1. Introduction
2. Literature review

3
6

2.1 Early adopters

7

2.2 Early majority

8

2.3 Innovation and its characteristics

9

2.4 Relative advantage

10

2.5 Compatibility

11

2.6 Complexity

11

2.7 Trialability

12

2.8 Observability

13

3. Methodology

15

3.1 Research questions

15

3.2 Approach to research

16

3.3 Sampling strategy

16

3.4 Data collection process

17

3.5 Data analysis process

18

3.6 Ethics

19

4. Research findings and analysis
4.1 Current stage of adoption

20
21

4. 2 The diffusion of innovations and consumer 3D printing

24

4.3 Relative advantage

28

4.4 Compatibility

30

4.5 Complexity

33

4.6 Trialability

35

4.7 Observability

37

4.8 The importance of innovation characteristics and adoption

39

5. Conclusion
6. Appendices

42
51

A. Interview profiles

51

B. Interview questions

53

2

1.Introduction
Technology is currently used all over the world in the form of computers, television and
mobile phones bettering the lives of many. The way in which that technology spreads is
inherently important to understanding the successes and failures of the technology we
use today. Understanding how and why innovations become part of our lives gives
insight into the way we operate and interact as human beings. The current leading
academic theory on how technology spreads is the Diffusion of Innovations by Rogers
(2003). Within this theory the variables for that spread and adoption of technology
taking place are discussed. A key variable academically recognised as being part of the
adoption process, the characteristics of the innovation (Rogers, 2003). To find out how
innovation characteristics play a role in the movement from early adopters to early
majority I will be using consumer 3D printing as the context. The purpose of this study is
to identify how the consumer 3D Printing market can alleviate itself from a niche early
adopter group to a wider audience. The literature review shows how academics believe
technology spreads and through that goes through various stages of adoption. It then
looks at where the consumer 3D printing market is situated on the technological
adoption scale. Looking at in particular the Diffusion of Innovations (Rogers, 2003) and
how within that, characteristics of an innovation play a large role in its spread and
adoption. Each characteristic is broken down and discussed with its relevance to
consumer 3D printing. The diffusion of innovations has been applied to a variety of new
technologies but never to consumer 3D printing. This is the gap the research intends to
3

fill by focusing on the characteristics laid out by Rogers‟ Diffusion of Innovations (2003)
and what role they play in adoption. In chapter 3 this study goes onto to explain what
research method was used, how the information was utilised and how it was gathered.
The discussion section in chapter 4 begins with the information gathered and looks at it
in line with previous academic literature. There is a focus in this chapter on the answers
to the research questions and the relevant themes that come out of the research. In the
final chapter the research conducted will be evaluated and future research suggestions
made.

The 3D Printer has been part of the progression forward with bettering the way we work.
3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing, is the process of adding layers on
top of each other to create a three dimensional object. Unlike the majority of
manufacturing processes that subtracts material to create an object a 3D Printer will,
like its namesake (additive manufacturing) add material. 3D Printing‟s main use has
always been product development and rapid prototyping Multinationals have been using
the technology for years for things like building developmental parts or testing product
concepts. The technology has progressed so much 3D printers are making their way
into the homes of the general public; a move away from the office to the consumer user.
The consumer 3D printing movement began from the project to create a machine, which
could create better versions of itself (RepRap project). These devices have now moved
from precarious machines that could create rudimentary objects to a whole industry of
high end printers that can print metal, plastic and even food based items. The 3D Printer
is now heralded as the start of the next industrial revolution due to the way in which
content can be instantly shared with a device which can then create that content in
4

physical form (Barnatt, 2013). The 3D printing market is currently worth $789 million
with around 11.6% made up from consumer purchases, this is expected to grow to 28%
by 2018 with an within an overall market value of $13.4 billion (Gartner, 2014).
Understanding how innovation characteristics help to move adoption forward will give
insight into how 3D printing can make its first steps into the early majority and how
potential other technologies can follow in its footsteps.

5

2. Literature Review
With the basis of this study in finding out how technology spreads from one area to
another and finding out the key factors for which this is dependent the key text in this
field is the „Diffusion of Innovations‟ written by Rogers (1983) . Diffusion science is based
on the communication of an innovation to a small subset of potential adopters so that
they will influence the vast majority of other potential adopters to consider, adopt,
implement and maintain the use of said innovation (Dearing, 2008). Alternate models for
technological adoption such as Bass Diffusion model (Bass, 1969) and Technological
acceptance model (Davis,1989) are respected ways in which to study how technology
spreads but Rogers (2003) diffusion of innovations has been proven in many scenarios
to provide a key insight into how technology spreads. The theory has been used in
various contexts including marketing, knowledge management and communications and
has been shown to outline the factors in which this spread can happen (Greenhalgh et
al., 2005). It is important to remember that diffusion theories can never account for
every variable and in turn may miss important predictors of adoption (Plsek and
Greenhalgh, 2001). It has been argued that the adopter categories set out by Rogers
assume all technology follows the same distributive path and that the size of these
adopter groups are all the same which is an issue with its application (Mahajan et al,
1990). To counter-argue this though it has been proven adopter categories provide a

6

powerful means in which to segment audiences thereby showing how innovations move
from one to the next (Valente, 1996).

2.1 Early adopters

The early adopters of consumer 3D printing are known as the maker community they
are considered the trendsetters and are opinion leaders in their social groups. The
maker community are the lead-users and refine technology they a re given to meet their
needs, they appreciate the benefits of new technology easily (Moore, 1999). There is no
need for early adopters to reference their buying decision like other adopter groups
which is seen with continual line of new 3d printing products being successful. They
instead, rely on their own vision and intuition so they can maintain their central
communication position (Moore, 1999). The rise of fabrication labs and makerspaces
has been happening all over the UK thanks to the maker community showing a need to
spread the message of 3D printing (Lahart, 2015). The early adopter has always been
considered an active member within societal conversations about technology but the
maker movement as it is also known plays a far bigger role. This includes holding
events, starting makerspaces and bringing 3D printing to local communities (Burnett
and Brooks, 2013). Consumer 3D printing has been discussed previously confirming its
place as in the early adopter stage due to the nature of its current users (Gartner,
2013). The beginning of 2011 was the beginning of the early adoption phase. Research
has shown the rise of personal fabrication was the cause of this as consumers looked to
fix broken object in their homes without the direction of those that manufactured them
(Mota, 2011). This is in line with the characteristics of adopter‟s categories assumptions
7

Rogers (2003) stating that early adopters are risk takers who are more likely than the
early majority to make purchases without feedback from their surroundings and without
complete knowledge of their capabilities.

2.2 Early majority

The early majority are those who adopt new technology just before the average member
of a system, they interact with those around them but do not hold positions of direct
influence (Rogers, 2003). For example an early adopter is likely to purchase a
consumer 3D printer when no one on their street has one whereas the early majority will
wait for that first person to make the purchase and then wait till they feel they‟ve been
proven useful. It is argued that between the early adopters and early majority lays a
chasm due to the distinct different nature of adopters (Moore, 1999). Although past
research shows no real support for this claim of the idea of a chasm, Rogers (2003)
counter argues that the opposite is present as innovativeness is a sharp variable and
there are no sharp breaks or chasms. The early majority is categorised as having less
affluence and education than the early adopters group meaning they want an innovation
which is more obvious for both its uses and benefits (Rogers, 2003). When discussing
the early majority within the context it will mean the beginning of mass consumer
adoption.

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