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In his book, “Liminal Thinking,” Dave Gray uses the term “The Obvious” to refer to our individual view of the world. “The Obvious” is a map that we’ve built up over time to navigate the world around us, and it influences most of the conscious decisions we make in a given day. We trust our map implicitly, even take it for granted, but rarely to think about how that map came to be.

The Pot Roast Story  is an example of relying on ”The Obvious.” In the story, a woman, for years, diligently follows a family recipe that calls for cutting the ends off a pot roast before cooking. When the woman decides to find out why the recipe calls for cutting off the ends of the roast, she finds out it was less about the result than the original circumstances.

Every day we make decisions in our life and in our work based on our individual map, on what we consider “The Obvious.” What if we looked deeper? What if we started to ask why we do the things we do? What is it we are actually trying to accomplish?

Cooperative Extension, like other adult education programs, has a mission, though the exact mission and wording varies state by state. The word cloud below captures the most common words in Extension mission statements from 32 states found on websites in October 2016. What stands out to you?


Viewing just the word cloud, we surmise that Extension is associated with universities, and uses education and research-based knowledge to improve and strengthen people, families, and communities. But why do we believe education and research-based knowledge will improve and strengthen people, families, and communities?

The answer, for many adult education programs, is grounded in the theory of Diffusion of Innovation. This theory provides an underpinning for much of what Extension does, and a substantial body of peer-reviewed literature has developed around it.

In a nutshell, “Diffusion is the process through which an innovation, defined as an idea perceived as new, spreads via certain communication channels over time among the members of a social system.” – A Prospective and Retrospective Look at the Diffusion Model, Everett M. Rogers, Journal Of Health Communication Vol. 9 , Iss. Sup1, 2004

Extension has developed as a system to communicate innovations (broadly defined) to our audiences, with the assumption that this will lead to the audience adopting innovations that will “strengthen and improve their lives.”

Diffusion of innovation theory is implicit in the logic model, which posits changes in knowledge lead to changes in action which lead to changes in condition. While it seems self-evident that people require knowledge before their behavior will change, do we do enough to consider, and affect, the other complex factors that influence changes in behavior?

We encourage you to read more about the diffusion of innovation, and ask if it sufficiently answers your “why question.” If it doesn’t, then what does? The next step is to delve a bit deeper with the diffusion of innovation theory and ask questions, e.g.:

  • Where does the innovation come from?
  • What is the role of Extension in developing or discovering the innovation?
  • What is Extension’s role in communicating that innovation?
  • Are there steps beyond communicating that will lead to adoption of the innovation?

In our next post, we will look at some of these questions, particularly through the lens of networks. In our view, networks can play a key role in facilitating the discovery and spread of innovations.

Authors: Bob Bertsch (@ndbob), Karen Jeannette (@kjeannette), and Stephen Judd (@sjudd)