Most organisations value and reward aspects of innovation and creativity. This is what creates differentiation in the market, sets a company apart from competitors or results in the new “must have” product or service. And to the creative go the spoils, sometimes. I have sat in on performance reviews where individuals have been rewarded or elevated for developing new methodologies, tools or practices.

Now not all parts of your organisation need to be as innovative as others. A deeply held culture and reward system for creativity when applied in the wrong way and in the wrong place can have unintended negative consequence for an organisation. Wrongly rewarding and encouraging creative people to focus on the wrong things wastes plenty of valuable time and energy that should be focused on what creates a unique difference.

What emerges is a mindset of Not Invented Here (NIH).

The not invented here syndrome (NIH) describes that negative attitude toward knowledge derived from external sources. This goes beyond not valuing, but expressly rejecting external knowledge when it would otherwise be beneficial for the organisation. Research has shown that organization inertia, processes and structures if left unchecked, challenge the transfer of and use of outside knowledge.

Often what underlies a not invented here syndrome are a number of beliefs:

  • There is a belief that bringing in, or buying in, external knowledge is more expensive than developing internally.
  • That the organisation context is so unique that nothing else yet developed would fit and thus have the desired impact
  • Boldness, self-belief or over confidence that no one else could develop something as good as we could (the world of Apple in 1990s)

As Dan Ariely writes in The Upside of Irrationality, “Regardless of what we create – a toy box, a new source of electricity, a new mathematical theorem – much of what really matters to us is that it is our creation. As long as we create it, we tend to feel rather certain that it’s more useful and important than similar ideas that other people come up with.”  

A few examples that I have come across, and I invite you to share yours:

  • Developing new team effectiveness assessment surveys
  • Tweaking or redesigning of engineering drawings when “off the shelf” would suffice
  • Developing bespoke training for fundamental topics such as time management
  • The famous rejection by Western Union to partner with Alexander Graham Bell to commercialise his idea for the telephone. 

Be An ethical thief

The words of my former colleague Lucy McNamara continue to reverberate in my head. “Steal with Pride”. Alone these words may ring alarm bells, however the caveat is to always acknowledge and where possible show appreciation for the source.

I am always asking myself “who else has done this work” and can I use it in a way that will speed up delivery and have greater impact? By bringing in the work of others, I can focus time and energy on how to leverage the great work of others.

The truth is I am not stealing. For example, when blogging, I make every effort to reference and attribute the work of others. Not only because this is the right thing to do, but it also allows readers to go on a journey and explore that topic. Through attribution and reciprocal sharing I have gained access to knowledge and materials far beyond I could have imagined.

Having said that, more often than not I am buying in. That is using assessments and tools developed by others. They have done the hard development work and gone through a validation process. This allows me to focus on getting the job done in the most efficient way.

In a future blog I will look at the value of using already developed and tested team effectiveness tools compared to developing in-house assessments.

References and Further Reading

Antons, D., & Piller, F. T. (2015). Opening the Black Box of “ Not Invented Here ” : Academy of Management Perspectives, 29(2), 193–217.Bessant, J. (2018) “How ‘Not Invented Here’ Limits Innovation”. Online:

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