Simulating Innovation

Simulating Innovation

Computer-based Tools for Rethinking Innovation

Christopher Watts and Nigel Gilbert

Christopher Watts and Nigel Gilbert explore the generation, diffusion and impact of innovations, which can now be studied using computer simulations.

Chapter 6: Adopting and adapting: innovation diffusion in complex contexts

Christopher Watts and Nigel Gilbert

Subjects: business and management, organisational innovation, economics and finance, economics of innovation, evolutionary economics, innovation and technology, economics of innovation, organisational innovation, social policy and sociology, sociology and sociological theory


Models are ‘tools for thinking’ (Pidd, 1996), and different tools may inspire different thoughts, and lead to different policies. Experts in two different modelling approaches may arrive at different questions and identify different issues when confronted with the same scenario (Morecroft and Robinson, 2006). How the processes of innovation have been modelled then ought to be of concern to innovation studies. Chapter 2 surveyed the major types of model of innovation diffusion, including the epidemic and probit models. In this chapter, a new simulation model of the diffusion of innovations is presented, one in which some of the assumptions of other diffusion models are challenged. In particular, the distinction between the innovation generation and diffusion stages is weakened in favour of a view of innovation adoption as involving adaptation of the innovation. This adaptation is necessitated by the local variation in individual adopters’ contexts; no one innovation satisfies all potential adopters. Drawing upon ethnographic studies of the social construction of technology (SCOT) and actor–network theory (ANT), it is proposed that diffusion of innovations should be modelled as a form of constraint satisfaction. But in allowing adaptation of an innovation, one reduces the importance of its originator: later, adapted versions may prove more popular than the original. Hence, there are likely to be practical implications of the thinking represented in the new simulation model.

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