3 tips for combatting not-invented-here syndrome

Company culture and internal politics can block ideas at any time as they make their perilous journey from concept to value. These techniques will help you knock down those barriers to innovation.

A businesswoman looks into the distance amid abstract technology, colleagues in background.
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While there are several culture-related issues that can be barriers to innovation, one of the most common is not-invented-here (NIH) syndrome. NIH syndrome is the condition where internal project teams will often reject the majority of ideas since they come from the outside. This applies not only to ideas coming from outside the organization, but also to ideas coming from outside the immediate project team.

Not just more tech jargon, NIH is a real syndrome with real implications that has been studied and well-documented.

An MIT study found that R&D project teams of stable composition tend to increase their productivity over the first year and a half of working together and then level off; after five years, their productivity declines noticeably. This condition of NIH is particularly prevalent among project teams that have been together for over five years and believe they already possess all the expertise and have therefore cornered the market on new ideas.

“The Not-Invented-Here (NIH) syndrome is defined as the tendency of a project group of stable composition to believe it possess a monopoly of knowledge of its field, which leads it to reject new ideas from outsiders to the likely detriment of its performance.” – Ralph Katz and Thomas J. Allen

Left unchecked NIH syndrome can slow the progress of promising ideas or even prevent them from seeing the light of day. And, worse, the more powerful the idea, the more potent the resistance. Disruptive ideas, by their very nature, tend to be the most attacked by these teams who may act—either knowingly or unknowingly—as internal corporate antibodies.

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