MENTAL MODELS AND DIFFUSION AND ADOPTION OF INNOVATIONS
The mental model of an individual is critical to adoption of an innovative strategy that contributes to sustainability. Adoption describes the acceptance of a new product, idea or technology according to the demographic and psychological characteristics of defined adopter groups (Rogers, 2003).
Adoption of an innovation or green thinking by an individual is due to a shift in their mental models, caused by interactions in their professional networks. Craik (1943) suggested that the mind constructs “small-scale models” of reality that it uses to anticipate events (Johnson-Laird & Byrne, 2000). Such models are conceptualizations ofthe world that the mind builds by incorporating the individuals’ views of the world, of themselves, of their own capabilities and of the tasks that they are required to perform (Norman, 1983) and are referred to as mental models. Individuals construct mental models of themselves and the environment that they are required to interact with from perception, imagination, the comprehension of discourse, and use them in their decision-making. An individual’s mental model of innovation/ green technology and sustainability reflects their awareness and perception of how it improves for example the organization that they work for and its operations, their clear comprehension of the discourse on sustainability, and intention to involve innovation that contribute to green thinking/ sustainability in their decision-making process. Individuals interacting with their immediate environment are exposed to new ideas, and learning which results in a shift in their mental models.
The ability for an individual in an organization to adopt an innovative idea is largely dependent on their interactions in social networks and its influence on the diffusion of the innovative idea. A change in mental model of an individual can impact or ‘infect’ others in their network to adopt
an idea. This gives rise to social network analysis (SNA), defined as the mapping and measuring of relationships and flows between people, groups, organizations, computers, web sites, and other information/knowledge processing entities (Wasserman & Faust, 1994). Figure 4 shows how diffusion spreads through a social network of an individual over time. The social network in F igure 4 is comprised of two individuals. A faster diffusion and change in mental model (Adoption Curve 1, Figure 5) of an individual leads to a quicker adoption rate (steep inflection point) and a rapid spread of the ‘infection’ within the individual’s immediate social network with the innovative idea.
Figure 5. The dynamics of diffusion and adoption ofinnovation over time due to change in mental models of individuals (adapted from Mukherjee & Muga, 2010)
A rapid change in mental model, diffusion/ adoption rate, and spread of the ‘infection’ or innovative idea is crucial to achieving sustainability (reducing carbon dioxide emissions, excess consumption, etc). The adoption of an innovative idea becomes self-sustaining when the ‘tipping point’ is reached. Critical mass or the ‘tipping point’ (Figure 5), is the point at which enough individuals in a system have adopted an innovation so that the information’s further rate of adoption becomes self-sustaining (Rogers, 2003)
Management plays an important role in the diffusion and adoption of an innovative strategy that addresses sustainability. Transposing the idea of social network to a management structure, diffusion and adoption is a function of the strength of a management structure of a firm or company, the ties between the individuals within the structure, and the key individual connectors who enable transmission of the innovative idea and/or policies between the different hierarchies. From organizational theory of management, two
way ties between individuals (a<-------- >b) are more
important than one-way time (a^ b). Two way ties represent transfer of crucial information among lateral and/or lower rank individuals to a lateral/ higher rank managerial individual.