How we change what others think, feel, believe and do
The Diffusion Vowel Pattern
The 'Vowel Pattern' described here is a simple mnemonic of the vowels 'OAEIU' that identifies five key attributes that leads to the diffusion of ideas and information.
The first thing that must happen for ideas to spread is that people meet or connect, and for this to happen there must be some kind of opportunity for this to happen.
The simplest way people meet is by randomly bumping into one another, and for this to happen they need the dynamics of motion and some element of randomness so they do not just meet the same people every time. Ideas spread more easily within a group but it needs wider connections for it to spread between groups.
To meet, there needs to be some way of connecting with others. The simplest is face-to-face, though this is limited by geography. Books, newspapers, radio and television have proved very effective at spreading ideas, although these have the limits (and sometimes benefits) of being one-way.
Telephones allowed long-distance two-way communication and the internet has combined all of the above. We are now such a connected world it has been questioned whether diffusion will be so widespread we will soon have only one culture.
Events act like magnets in bringing people together. From weddings to business meetings to football matches, the announcement of an event is in effect an invitation to come together and share thoughts and ideas.
The amount of idea exchange that goes on depends on the degree of attachment between people when they meet.
Connection between people can be seen as a form of stickiness. Close friends and family are very sticky as there are many reasons to come together and stay together. Work colleagues may also be sticky as we need to connect with them. On the other hand we have little attachment to people we meet casually.
Ideas can also be sticky or slippery. Sticky ideas stay in memory and are easy to fully recall. Slippery ideas slide into the subconscious from which they are difficult to retrieve.
Sometimes we meet with people often, such as people at work or fellow commuters on the train. This gives plenty of opportunity to exchange ideas.
Familiarity breeds friendship far more than contempt and the people we see more often are likely to be come stickier friends.
When people meet, the proportion of these meetings in which ideas are spread is important for diffusion of all kinds of innovations and concepts.
The other dimension of attachment after frequency is how long we meet for. In a short meeting there is little time to discuss things. In a longer connection, ideas can be explained and persuasive arguments made.
When we meet and connect with others, sometimes we only exchange social niceties, making small talk and discussing familiar things. There is also the opportunity for new ideas to be exchanged.
Trust is an important gateway for the exchange of ideas. To trust someone is to expose yourself, to be vulnerable to attack. This is particularly true when offering a new idea which the other person may reject (and also reject you in the process).
For the idea to get across, then the other person has to understand it. This is not necessarily an easy process for a complex concept as they will need to integrate it into their existing schema, beliefs and so on. Rather than recognizing a known idea they need to learn about the new idea, making sense of it.
A key factor in whether an idea is adopted and spread to others, or just filed away is whether the person who is listening finds any real interest in it.
Interest is triggered by various factors, including when we see something that may help us meet our goals (and maybe threaten them too). Anything that helps meet our needs, for example increasing our sense of control also is of interest.
Interest and intrigue is also triggered by surprise and when we perceive something new. If there is scope for developing our understanding of the world we will naturally be interested to learn more.
What interest brings is attention, a sustained connection, exploration and interaction with the idea. When we attend to it, we compare it with our existing models and look for ways to integrate it into our world view.
Even if it is a negative idea, we need to to learn how to handle it and may therefore connect it with our rejection system, building rational arguments as to why it is bad.
In the end what makes us want to spread the idea to other people is if we get some value from it, if it helps us in some way.
This usefulness may be practical in helping us live our daily lives and solving problems, giving us control over a complex world. This can include usefulness in gaining the things we want and also avoiding the things that might harm us in some way.
The value may also come from the more abstract novelty of the idea, amusing and entertaining us in some way. In this way we will spread jokes and amusing stories.