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Dear EcoGirl: Sometimes I feel so frustrated trying to explain ecological issues to people who just don't seem to understand -- or want to. How can I get through to them -- without making myself crazy? Signed, Earth Lover
Dear Earth Lover: Thanks for your question. I'm sure your frustration resonates with anyone who acts to help our culture shift from eco-destruction to sanity.
Unfortunately, we usually don't feel satisfied by simply avoiding the conflict. We know that these are often literally life and death issues, for so many people, animals, ecosystems, and indeed the planet itself. We feel the urgency!
I certainly won't say that I have "The Answer." It's a challenging problem with many components.
However, I will share with you one tool that I've adapted to help me overcome communication gaps and generally present eco-ideas more effectively.
The Product Diffusion Curve
The underlying tool here comes from Everett Rogers' book Diffusion of Innovations. It goes by various names; I'll call it the Product Diffusion Curve. It maps out the five customer types that a new product needs to go through to be adopted within a population. Marketing people use it to craft messages that connect with each audience group. I think we can do the same with eco-ideas!
Understanding Each Group
1) Innovators. These folks are the pioneers. They love new products, and are willing to risk uncertainties, difficulties, and failures. It's all part of the adventure! So they wear the newest fashion or use the pre-release software even if it crashes. They also tend to become bored once an item starts becoming popular, as they move on to the next new thing.
2) Early Adopters. This group watches the innovators, looking for the more stable new products. They're the opinion leaders who influence others, for instance writing the newsletters that report on what the pioneers are doing.
3) Early Majority. These people watch the early adopters, seeking products that they feel offer them tangible benefits, are easy to use, and fit within their existing values and infrastructure.
4) Late Majority. These folks are usually more skeptical and wait until they see a critical mass of other folks happily using a product before they'll take the leap.
5) Laggards. These people are the very last to adopt a new product, after pretty much everyone else has, and even then only if they must. They don't like change, and value constancy and traditions.
How I Use This Model
People in our modern culture can often prefer the exciting trend-setters who tout the latest fun new thing. They seem much more exciting than those foot-dragging laggards! But I think that all of these categories have positive and negative expressions. Thus the innovators can also be too impulsive, ignoring existing structures and taking unwise risks that cause enormous harm, while those who change more slowly can potentially provide stability and the chance for us to "look before we leap."
I also think that we can all play different roles in different areas and times of our lives, based on our priorities. So today I'm (hopefully) on the innovator side of the "applying eco-ideas" scale, but really a laggard when it comes to "knowing the latest clothing fashions."
So consider -- where in your life do you love new ideas and risk? And where do you prefer to "wait and see" instead? Answering these questions will help you connect to this model, keep your own tendencies balanced, and empathize with others who are either innovating or lagging in a particular domain.
We can then use that understanding to help us persuade others. For instance, if you feel that someone is an innovator in the arena you're discussing, you'll probably want to emphasize what's new and different about your proposal. But if they're a laggard, you might describe how everyone else is already applying these ideas, including someone they know and like. Or perhaps you can help the idea seem less new by connecting it to one of their existing values, activities, or concerns. And sometimes the best that you can do is gently plant an idea seed which they might ruminate on later.
This is just a taste of what this model can do. I hope that you're inspired to explore it more!
Ask EcoGirl is written by Patricia Dines, Author of The Organic Guides, and Editor and Lead Writer for The Next STEP newsletter. Email your questions about going green to <EcoGirl [at] AskEcoGirl.info> for possible inclusion in future columns. View past columns at <www.AskEcoGirl.info>.
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"EcoGirl: Encouraging the eco-hero in everyone."
© Copyright Patricia Dines, 2012. All rights reserved.
There's lots of info online about this model,
depending on your interests. As a starting point, I think
this file has some good info about how you can talk to each
audience and meet their needs.
You can also find more of my tips in this column, "Speaking Effectively for the Earth" www.patriciadines.info/EcoGirl5a.html
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I hope that you find this information useful. I welcome your throughts and feedback!
You can email me at ecogirl [at] askecogirl.info! You can also ask to be on my email article alerts list or connect via Facebook at www.facebook.com/AskEcoGirl.
For more information on this and related eco-topics, see my other Ask EcoGirl columns.
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Page last updated 10/28/2012