Work the Network

Behaviors spread through a social network like viruses. You must work the network to change a whole organization.

An organization is a social network and, as in every social complex system, behaviors spread through an organization like viruses. As the Agile Manifesto says, it’s all about individuals and their interactions. If you want to be a change agent in your organization, social network awareness can help you to overcome resistance to change, and transform an entire social system.

Adoption Curve

The rate of adoption of behavior is the relative speed with which a change or innovation is adopted. A crucial point is the moment when a behavior reaches critical mass. That is the point within the adoption curve where so many individuals participate, that further adoption can become self-sustaining.

But how do you reach that critical mass?

Adoption curve

Professor Everett Rogers produced a theory in 1962, called the Diffusion of Innovations, in which he explained that innovators are the ones that push an innovation in a social network. They are followed by early adopters, an early and late majority, and a group of laggards. For change agents like you and me the trick is to reach out to different kinds of people in the social network with different approaches and messages.

Note: I added the extra category initiators to Rogers’ model. Initiators are the change agents themselves, the ones who desire a change of behavior in other people.


The adoption curve reminds us that one-size-doesn’t-fit all. When you are leading a change in your organization, you will work with different messages and methods in order to address different people. What works for the innovators will not work with the majority. And the way you convince the early adopters will not be successful with the laggards.

Be aware that you must try many different things. And be prepared to fail almost as often!

Tip: If you want to know more about be a successful change agent, download this PDF and ask yourself these 30+ change management questions.

(Jurgen Appelo is author of Management 3.0, a best-selling management book for Agile developers. It has a picture of a monster in it.)

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