Innovation Fails Because of Corporate Antibodies: Learn How to Deal With Them


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Here’s a big reason why open innovation efforts can fail: they are often killed by corporate antibodies resisting the changes brought by opening up to external partners. These antibodies can exist in both large and small companies. If you’re hearing statements such as these, corporate antibodies may be at hard at work, resisting change:

• “We already tried that and couldn’t make it work.”
• “What we’re doing has worked fine for years; there is no need to change.”
• “Our current product is still profitable; I don’t see why we need to spend money on something new that might not even work out.”
• “We already explored that idea years ago but decided against it.”
• “If that were a good idea, we’d already have thought of it. After all, we are the experts on this.” (Said about an idea coming from the outside.)
• “Let me just play devil’s advocate here….”
• “Of course, I support innovation, but I just don’t think this is the right time to make a big change. The market isn’t ready.”

People making such statements may truly believe that they have the company’s best interests at heart. Or they may be putting their personal interests ahead of company loyalty. Some people also become antibodies because they don’t feel their opinions are given enough weight. Such feelings can cause people to continuously take the negative side or play devil’s advocate. The phrase “I hate to bring this up, but…” comes from them a lot, followed by a boatload of negativity.

This is not to say that anyone who questions the need for change or the direction that change is taking is being unnecessarily negative. Sound feedback is needed from many quarters for real innovation to occur. But what I’m talking about is not constructive criticism. Rather, it is the relentless negativity, foot dragging, and throwing up of needless roadblocks that pose a true threat to innovation ever becoming a reality.

Recognizing that corporate antibodies are likely to show up at some point in your innovation process and having strategies in place to deal with them should help you derail some of the people who want to impede change and maintain the status quo. Here are some potential solutions:

• Make people backers rather than blockers. It’s never too early to start this. Your initial stakeholder analysis and resulting communications strategy will mean that you’re being proactive rather than reactive. By communicating proactively, you can sometimes co-opt the antibodies into the process in a way that satisfies their egos and makes them feel their ideas and authority are being appropriately recognized. You may discover that your proactive efforts weren’t enough, but you can continue to communicate to stakeholders that they can play a valuable role in shaping the company’s future, including their own destiny. Bring people together to facilitate knowledge sharing and the building of new relationships that broaden everyone’s perspectives. Keep people involved in the innovation process.

• Stay below the radar. In some situations, the best choice is to stay below the radar as long as possible. Don’t become too interesting too early. This will help you avoid people who want to own the idea or process, or who want to apply standard corporate processes to the project even though this can kill it. This, of course, is more applicable to large companies than to small ones, where everybody knows what’s going on and it’s hard to keep anything quiet.

• Have frameworks and processes in place. Many internal innovation debacles can partly be avoided by setting internal rules about how to bring innovation projects forward. With a framework and process in place, it becomes easier to move projects forward without having them get hung up in destructive internal warfare.

• Provide high autonomy. In larger organizations, having innovation councils with high autonomy or units with their own assigned budgets and goals are other ways to get around the damage that can be done by corporate antibodies. Such structures help shelter new ideas against situations in which executives are not willing to spend their political capital in supporting innovation or when they believe the change will impact their own career negatively.

You can read more about my views on innovation in my book, Making Open Innovation Work, which you can download as a PDF-file free of charge!

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Stefan Lindegaard
Stefan is an author, speaker, facilitator and consultant focusing on open innovation, social media tools and intrapreneurship.


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