“It sounds like your organization suffers from Not
Invented Here Syndrome,” I commented to a client a few years ago.
“Oh, no, we don’t,” he told me. “We have the
Not Invented Here by Me Syndrome.”
Which brings us to this week’s Insight from the Biological
Sciences for Business Managers.
Stay with me.
Biologists think in terms of species — populations of
organisms that are genetically isolated from one another. In general, members
of different species can’t interbreed at all. Offspring of the exceptions, such
as mules, offspring of a horse and a donkey, are infertile.
Research into human evolution suggests this is an overly simplistic perspective. In our own distant past, members of different hominid species — like Homo sapiens, Homo neanderthalensis (Neanterthals), and Homo denisova (Denisovans) — could and did interbreed, producing fertile offspring whose genetic traces can be found in modern humans (“Denisovans Emerged from the Shadows,” Bruce Bower, Science News, 12/21/2019).
Our theory of the corporation is something like the older, more simplistic view of species. Substitute formal knowledge, informal ideas, and well-honed processes and practices for genes, as Richard Dawkins proposed when he originally coined the term “meme.” Then substitute patents, trademarks, copyrights, non-compete and non-disclosure agreements for the biological barriers to interspecies gene sharing.
Back in the halcyon days of the Microsoft vs Apple wars,
Apple was the more innovative of the two. Under Steve Jobs it “innovated”
the borrowing of Xerox Parc Labs’ research into GUIs years before Microsoft
borrowed the idea from Apple.
But following that initial borrowing, Jobs established a
core business culture that was rooted in all innovations having to be Apple
Meanwhile, Bill Gates’ business culture endorsed adopting
any and every good idea that wasn’t bolted down … and, if we’re all honest
with each other, good ideas that had been bolted down, but with too flimsy a
Apple’s aficionados were and are more passionately loyal
than Microsoft’s customers. But in IT, Microsoft matters. Apple’s products? They
connect to the IT portfolio but aren’t important to it.
Which leads to the question, has the corporations-as-species,
IP-as-gene business model outlived its value?
The answer, as Scott Lee and I proposed in The Cognitive Enterprise, is yes. It’s time to replace it with a more fluid model of corporate evolution.
Some of this is making a virtue of necessity. Organizations
are increasingly permeable. It’s luck that permeability has more advantages
New and promising ideas, methods, and practices are
readily available on your nearby internet. But there are barriers to adapting
and adopting them. Based on my unscientific sample, it appears the most
important are cultural. More specifically:
people find new ideas intrinsically interesting. More fall on the other extreme.
They figure they’ve learned what they need to know. It works. Learning
something new, especially if I don’t need to know it to do my job? That takes
far more mental energy than I’m willing to expend.
Fear: The way we
do things now works well enough. The new alternative might fail. The personal
benefit from championing a successful improvement is dwarfed by the punishments
imposed on those whose names are on a failure.
disqualification: One reason I’m a management consultant is that I’m allowed
to be an expert. Employees rarely are, for two probable reasons. The first is
peer pressure (“Who do you think you are, telling the rest of us you’ve
thought of a better way of doing things?”).
The second is pricing. Companies pay outside experts more
than employees, whether the outside experts are consultants or industry
analysts like Gartner and Forrester. The chain of logic: The more I pay for
something, the more it must be worth.
Once upon a time, associations were popular. They met regularly, providing
social outlets for like-minded professionals, opportunities for personal
networking, and the ability to exchange ideas from and to credible sources —
peers who had actually tried these things, made them work, and had no need to
hide the potholes they hit on the road to success, or the limitations they
discovered when they finished implementing.
For one reason or another, few of these associations are
still flourishing, and the virtual alternatives — on-line discussion groups —
haven’t filled the gap. Why? Probably because they’re neither local nor sociable.
And, they’re limited to what participants can express by
# # #
To be continued next week.