Why Not-Invented-Here Syndrome Hurts Countries and Companies

If countries were boats, let’s be honest with ourselves: During this crisis, the United States has exhibited the agility of a tugboat. Although we all know bigger doesn’t necessarily mean better, it also doesn’t have to mean slower. Germany, with its 83 million people, is a case study on how to crowdsource the best ideas and stay one step ahead of a situation. They have taken an al a carte approach toward the coronavirus, borrowing the best mitigation strategies from Asia and elsewhere. They are being rewarded for their open-minded attitude with a lower infection rate, higher percentage of testing, widespread contact tracing and relaxing of some restrictions.

But the same rigid or reflexive thinking that hamstrings countries in a crisis applies equally to companies and individuals. Four tips for adopting a nimble mindset in the post-Covid era:

1) Be the first to kill your ideas: As the leader, if you want others to be less wedded to their own outdated ideas, be the first to kill your own. Quickly. Publicly. Unemotionally. It telegraphs to your team that there are no sacred cows, and what matters most is what works best.

2) Lower the bar to innovation: Everyone says they want a culture of innovation, but what do they do to create one? Empty suggestion boxes make for good talking points. When it comes to innovation, it’s the subtle signals from the top that make all the difference. Do you let team members cut each other off in meetings, so only the most forceful have their voices heard? Do you require endless modeling in order to support an idea before it will even be considered? Does your team have strong examples to emulate of times when creativity and risk-taking were rewarded? Or is all they see a wasteland of abandoned ideas that never wafted up the ivory tower?

3) Don’t believe your own press releases: Companies that are great at creating hype sometimes develop fragile egos. Their identity begins to hinge on those feel good stories to sustain mythology inside and out. They then resist innovation that could imply to shareholders or reporters that they were wrong or someone else was right. Growth is the casualty. Don’t insist your company has to be the Instagram version of itself. Stay grounded, and don’t be afraid to incur some negativity. As Robert Moses said, you have to break an egg to make an omelet.

4) Resist not-invented-here culture: When you unjustly mock the competition’s successful innovation within your industry, you perpetuate the false belief that only good ideas come from within. You are sending your company culture back to the Dark Ages. You’re also denying your team a learning opportunity to make sure it doesn’t happen again. No one gets to publicly ask the simple question, how did we miss this? Whenever I’m feeling too high on myself, I love to go back and read the colorful dismissive quotes from Blockbuster when Netflix first appeared on the scene. And when they chose not to buy them for $50 million. And when they went bankrupt a few years later. That’s what happens when you have a not-invented-here culture; somebody eats your lunch while you eat crow.

It’s time to acknowledge the truth and act accordingly.

There are two types of leaders right now: The ones who don’t need to wait for evidence to act, and the ones who put their heads in the sand and rely on the old numbers. Only one will win. Which are you?

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