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Top five books for enablers of change

In this blog post we’ll give you a brief overview of the top five books that we think are useful to have on our bookshelf as enablers of change!

John starts with the classic text, “Diffusion of innovations”, first published by Everett Rogers back in 1962. Rogers kept adding to it over the years, with the fifth and final edition being published in 2003. Sadly Rogers passed away the following year, but his name will always be synonymous with the diffusion of innovations. 

The book is over 500 pages long, so it takes a while to wade through it. But it has lots of little case studies and anecdotes, which makes it easier to read. You’ve no doubt heard about the categories of adopters… innovators, early adopters, early majority, late majority and the infamously named, laggards. 

Well, they are all described in detail in this book, as are the five characteristics of an innovation that helps it spread: relative advantage, compatibility, complexity, trialability and observability. 

We think that if you haven’t read this book, then you really should make the effort to do so. And remember, it’s not just a classic in agriculture, folk working in public health promotion and technology adoption, also refer to it frequently. 

Denise follows with “The workshop book”, by Brian Stanfield, and thinks this is a great little book to have handy. This book covers some of the background and explanations of workshop approaches. It also has great tools and tips for running workshops. Denise really appreciated getting some background on why these approaches are useful and getting a few more details about how they were developed. But you don’t have to start there, you can just jump straight to the how-to run a successful workshop. The book covers each step of the workshop process in detail with common problems identified. 

The steps are:

  1. Context – orientating the group
  2. Brainstorming – harvesting ideas
  3. Clustering – bringing order
  4. Naming – one concept from many ideas
  5. Follow-up.

And it has lots of tips for leading workshops. It’s a great resource! 

John picks out a book by two of his favourite authors next… Chip and Dan Heath. You may have read their previous book “Made to stick: Why some ideas take hold and others come unstuck”. This is a more recent one, which John reckons you should have on your bookshelf. It’s “Switch: How to change things when change is hard”. That title really resonated and the contents didn’t disappoint either! 

They introduce a three step process, describing three actors in the change system: the rider, the elephant and the path. They go through each in turn, describing the steps involved and include some great anecdotes that help illustrate the story. If you’re an enabler of change, this needs to be on your bookshelf! 

And Denise recommends another Brian Stanfield book, but this time, ‘The art of focused conversation’. She says that she’s had this book for years! It’s one that she bought when she first started facilitating and it’s one that has been useful again and again. 

The book is based on the focused conversation method or ORID. An ORID provides a framework for conversations to solve a problem, make a decision or evaluate an event. 

ORID stands for:

O: the objective questions. These are questions to analyse the facts; or to recall what happened. 

R:  the reflective questions. These questions are about how we feel about the situation or the facts. 

I: interpretive questions. These are designed to help us think about the meaning, the values and the significance of the issue or topic.

And D: the decision questions which are about resolving the conversation. For facilitators it might help to plan the next step.

And the book has the theory and background to the method, and then has 100 different conversations and questions that you can use. It’s really useful – especially for those times when you just are not sure how to start and need a question to adapt!

And finally John finishes with a book he can still remember reading many years ago and I must say it did help shape my thoughts and actions as a young professional. It’s ‘The 7 habits of highly effective people’ by Stephen Covey. It’s full of great principles for life in general, such as ‘Begin with the end in mind’ and ‘Seek first to understand, then to be understood’. 

John says, it actually wasn’t a great book to read, but the content was great. So here’s his tip… buy ‘The 7 habits of highly effective teens’ by his son, Sean Covey. It has the same great content, but written in a much easier to read style. 

So you’ve read our thoughts on books for enablers of change, now we’d like to hear yours! Add a comment below and tell us about your favourite book. We don’t want this to be just a one-way conversation – join in by sharing your thoughts and ideas with us! 


Rogers, E. M. (2003). Diffusion of innovations. New York: Free Press.

Stanfield, B. (2002). The workshop book: From individual creativity to group action. Canada: New Society Publishers. 

Heath, C., & Heath, D. (2010). Switch: How to change things when change is hard. New York: Broadway Books.

Stanfield, B. (2000). The art of focused conversation: 100 ways to access group wisdom in the workplace. Gabriola Island, B.C: New Society Publishers.

Covey, Stephen R. (2004) The 7 habits of highly effective people: restoring the character ethic. New York: Free Press.

Covey, Sean. (1998). The 7 habits of highly effective teens: The ultimate teenage success guide. New York: Fireside.

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Roy Murray-Prior
4 years ago

Hi John and Denise. Am afraid I totally disagree with Rogers. In my view, it has done more harm for extension theory and practice than any other book. Because of its simplistic reasoning, particularly wrt categories of adopters, it shifts the focus on the relevance of a particular innovation (developed by research) for a wider farming community, towards a focus on blaming farmers who don’t adopt the technology. The focus is on individuals and their failure to adopt rather than the relevance of the technology and the farming community who influence adoption. In some senses it is ok for simple… Read more »

Roy Murray-Prior
4 years ago

Just came across some recent papers in Journal of Applied Economic Perspectives and Policy discussed by David Pannell. Haven’t read them yet so not sure what I think of them – see Pannell discussions – people might want to subscribe:

Denise Bewsell
Denise Bewsell
4 years ago

Yes thanks for this Roy! Just found these today as well and thought there was some good work highlighted. As John says – subscribe to David’s newsletter!

Bob Dick
4 years ago

Let me mention the book that had the most influence on my own practice, and the way I think about it. It was “Theory in practice”, written in 1974 by Chris Argyris and Don Schön.

I’m not recommending it, because most people find it a very difficult read. I do recommend Roger Schwarz’s “Smart leaders, smarter teams”. It readable, very practical, and based strongly on Argyris and Schön’s ideas and models.

Hellen Agnew
Hellen Agnew
1 year ago

Hi Denise & John, I have always enjoyed Edward de Bono’s “Six thinking hats”. I use this approach with my team to problem solve. Being experienced staff on invasive species issues we tend to jump straight to a solution without fully exploring all the pitfalls or opportunities, so I find using the hats a simple way to lead a team to really explore management options. We also use ORID as an evaluation tool.

Jeff Coutts
1 year ago

Hi John and Denise – great books and some good discussion around them. I think the ‘Diffusion of Innovation’ was very useful in helping us all think about how innovation spread – and the characteristics that provide relative advantage are a key part of the CSIRO ADOPT model. I have also never been happy with the term ‘laggards’ as each person often has their own good reasons for not adopting something at a point in time. My biased vote, however, goes to Niels Roling’s ‘Extension Science’ – it caused a real stir amongst (technical) researchers at the time who thought… Read more »

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