I've been sharing Rogers production adoption curve for a long time, but I realize that it doesn't viscerally explain what's actually happening. Here's a better way to think about it:
[Click to enlarge]
Different people have different mindsets when encountering various markets. Some people are eager to try new foods, but always rely on proven fashions or cars. Some people live on the edge of popular culture when it comes to lifestyle, but want to be in the back of the room when it comes to their understanding of the latest science…
Every important idea starts out on the fringe. It's not obvious, proven or readily explained. And a tiny group of people, people who like the fringe, engage with it.
Sometimes, that fringe idea begins to resonate with those around the fringe-loving. This might have been what happened to punk music at CBGB. Now it's risky, but there are more people doing it. Again, these are the kind of people who like to seek out things that are risky (but hey, not fringe, they're not crazy.)
Sometimes, more rarely, the risky idea is seen by some culture watchers as a 'new thing'. They alert their audience, the folks that want to be in on the new thing, but can't risk being wrong, so they avoid the risky.
When enough people embrace a new thing, it becomes a hot thing, and then the hot thing might go mass.
The numbers don't lie: There are more people in the mass group! There are people who only buy pop hits, who only go to restaurant chains, who only drive the most popular car. In fact, it's the decision of this group in aggregate that makes the thing they choose the big hit.
Finally, when enough people with the mass worldview accept an idea, they begin to pressure the rest of the people around them, insisting that they accept the new idea as if it's always been the right thing to do, because that's what this group seeks, the certainty of the idea that has always been true.
You can apply this cycle to Talking Heads, diet ideas, the role of various genders and races in society, precepts of organized religion, political movements, sushi, wedding practices… Things that are accepted now, things that virtually everyone believes in as universal, timeless truths, were fringe practices a century or less ago.
The mistake idea merchants make is that they bring their fringe ideas to people who don't like fringe ideas, instead of taking their time and working their way through the progression.