How urban innovations spread - cities and the diffusion of innovation.

We all know from travelling, the internet, social media and so on that cities and cultures are diverse and that some places feel like they are stuck in the past, and others feel like travelling into the future. The last group are usually serial innovators and seem to always be ahead of the pack, like Singapore. From business innovation we find a well developed mental model to apply to cities instead of customers - it's called the innovation adoption lifecycle or the diffusion of innovation theory.

Innovation adoption lifecycle.png

The diagram illustrates (from left to right), the distribution of cities adopting innovations. On the left there are a small percentage of innovators - the people that invent a novel idea. At this stage the idea might not work very well, yet, it is picked up by the slightly bigger group - the early adopters - this group is willing to take a risk on solutions which are not perfect and they usually help develop the ideas through their use. The early majority pick up the refined ideas where the innovation begins to be implemented in large numbers, these are then followed by the late majority - at this stage market penetration of the idea is over 50% and is likely no longer feeling 'special'. The final group are the laggards - this group essential only adopts the idea when they are forced to as their existing solutions are no longer supported.

Is your City an innovator or a laggard?

The diffusion of innovation model can help urbanists work with cities as they advise them on strategies and initiatives to achieve their aspirations - to be more liveable, more sustainable, more lively, and more prosperous. These aspirations mean that the city must move from the groups on the right of the diagram towards innovation and early adoption - they need to move ahead of the curve or they will always be perceived in negative terms by people who might choose to live in them. The mindset and methods of innovation can be applied regardless of city size.

With regards to urban innovations there are some well-known success stories of previously staid cities which have become leaders in liveability through being innovators and early adopters over a sustained period - Melbourne, Copenhagen, Vancouver, and Singapore while other cities, such as Auckland, are starting to rapidly transform themselves by adopting the growth mindset of innovation. Smaller cities are also demonstrating the potential of rapidly shifting from a risk averse mindset to an entrepreneurial one - such as Napier, NZ.


Overcome challenges that limit your progress on your big goals. Use a simple three step process to make an impact in your city. The steps:

  1. Engage.

  2. Accelerate.

  3. Adapt.

Contact us for an initial consultation about your goals.