Monday, November 23, 2009

The NIH Factor may be Putting your Business in Peril

We are all aware of the existence of the NIH (Not Invented Here) factor, where open-minded judgment is overshadowed by a misguided emotional stance to keep things as they are. It is often talked about it in 3rd person, as if only exhibited “somewhere else” in the organization. Any evidence of its existence is regularly swept under the rug; it’s considered a reality of business in the engineering world. What price is paid when the NIH factor is allowed to routinely guide decisions about products, processes and ideas?

NIH is inversely proportional to an organizations creative ability. The more NIH is allowed to prosper, the less an organization will push the bounds of revolutionary discoveries. Left unchecked, NIH can lead to a stale organization where the imaginative juices stall, eventually leading to creative bankruptcy. Contemplate the US automakers current situation – NIH undoubtedly played a significant role.

The truth is it’s difficult to directly monitor the existence of the NIH factor and it’s impact on a business. However, consider that the same forces that enable an aversion to continuous improvement are also at work to drive up the NIH factor. Evangelize continuous improvement principals as a way of life, and NIH becomes a non-issue. An organization plagued with NIH is certain to have a culture where the status quo is an accepted approach to New Product Development.

As a leader, your teams will follow by example; they will align with your displayed support or opposition of practices that diminish NIH. What do they see? Your true motives will come through load and clear, accordingly it’s essential that you pay close attention to the reasons behind decisions. Stay on the lookout for decisions that were made out of a need to feel comfortable about a path of action. Comfortable usually means a familiar coarse of activity, one that is often repeated and perceived to carry limited risk; one that is also likely brimming with a healthy dose of NIH.

Where is your organization on the NIH culture scale? Not knowing is passive ignorance, not trying to find out is dangerous and not doing something about persistent NIH is disastrous. Once more, contemplate the US auto industries NIH affliction. Too big to fail – think again!

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