I'm a tall person. I have a tendency to hunch over at my desk
and my posture is not ideal. But I have recently acquired something
that helps. And now about six other people in my office have
them, too. As I write this, I am sitting on a big, red, exercise
Sitting is the new smoking, so they say. The
jury is still sort of out on the benefits of exercise balls,
but it certainly makes me more conscious of the way that I sit. I
also find myself bouncing up and down on it, which surely burns
more calories than just sitting.
And as it turns out, my exercise-ball-for-a-chair also provides a
great illustration of a theory called
Diffusion of Innovation (or DOI). Everett Rogers describes an
innovation as "an idea, practice, or object that is perceived as
new by an individual or other unit of adoption." In this case:
using an exercise ball instead of a desk chair. Diffusion, then, is
"the overall spread of an innovation, the process by which an
innovation is communicated through certain channels over time among
the members of a social system." Again, in this case: the growing
number of people in my office who are getting their own exercise
Clearly, not all innovations get diffused effectively. Some neat
ideas never take off, and amazing advances in public health can
take years to be widely accepted. There are certain characteristics
of innovations that make them more likely to diffuse within a
social system. The more of these characteristics an innovation
possesses, the more likely it is to diffuse.
- Relative advantage: Is the innovation better than what was
- Compatibility: Does the innovation fit with the intended
- Complexity: Is the innovation easy to use?
- Trialability: Can the innovation be tried before making a
decision to adopt?
- Observability: Are the results of the innovation visible and
Let's examine the use of an exercise ball as a chair in light of
- Relative Advantage: As mentioned, the jury is still out on
whether an exercise ball is better than a chair, but for me, it at
least makes me more conscious of the way I am sitting and for how
- Compatibility: In our office setting, which is in a
health-promoting field, using a chair that is healthier fits with
the intended audience.
- Complexity: Other than the occasionally difficult inflation of
an exercise ball, it's pretty simple to use. If you start bouncing
while trying to type (as I'm doing now), the complexity increases,
but it is not required for use!
- Trialability: This characteristic is especially important when
it comes to exercise-ball-chairs. It was and is very easy for any
of my co-workers to borrow my exercise ball to try it out,
especially because you aren't supposed to use it non-stop
throughout the day (
it can fatigue your tender back muscles). As this innovation
spread through the office, I think that trialability was the
#1 factor in its diffusion.
- Observability: As it turns out, I was not the first person in
the office to use an exercise ball chair. However, the first user
works in an area of the office that is rather isolated, so few
people could observe the balls in action. My cubicle is more
central (and near the kitchen!), with many people coming and going,
so my ball was easily observed while in use.
So what does this mean for health communication? Well, although
diffusion is the process by which an innovation is communicated
among members of a group, dissemination is the planned,
systematic efforts designed to make a program or innovation more
widely available. So when we create dissemination plans for our
projects or products, we should keep in mind how they will be
picked up by innovators and diffused throughout a social