Breakthrough Patient Recruitment

: Does Your Office Ball? A Look Into Diffusion of Innovation

Does Your Office Ball? A Look Into Diffusion of Innovation

Project Manager

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 ball.

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 balls.


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 there before?
  • Compatibility: Does the innovation fit with the intended audience?
  • 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 easily measureable?

Let's examine the use of an exercise ball as a chair in light of these characteristics.


  • 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 long.
  • 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 system.

 Jess Ball

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