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NIH Can Kill Innovation!!!

Not Invented Here.  So many engineering groups and businesses suffer from this disease.  How do you cure it?  Better yet, how do you prevent it?  How do you keep innovation alive in your organization so that it can grow and prosper?  Engineers (and many entrepreneurs) pride themselves on being innovative.  They often take it as an insult when someone else suggests they modify their plans or their product idea.  Too often, engineers come from a personality mold that inclines them to be loners and have few social skills.  I’ve often been amazed at the street-smarts person that did poorly in school and can’t add, but knows how to work with people and get them to do things.  He/She is often very good at listening and good and being a team player, giving credit to others at every possible turn.

The engineering manager often feels it is his/her responsibility and job to come up with the brilliant ideas that will carry the company forward.  Lacking those ideas, the manager may feel unworthy.  The other engineers under this supervisor often don’t get heard when they have an improvement on an idea or an even better one.  If they can’t be heard, guess what?  They leave and take their enthusiasm and innovative ideas elsewhere.  They may even start their own business and become wildly successful.

CEO’s and sales people know some of the best ideas come from customers.  Manufacturing managers know that the best ideas for continuous improvement come from the workers themselves.  There would not be a constant buying of small businesses by larger companies if good ideas were limited to the current engineers in your company.  And, innovation cannot be limited to engineering and manufacturing.  Innovative ideas for business models are important.  Many have read how IBM transformed itself from a hardware/software company to a services business.  General Electric this week decided to sell off some of its financial services.  What?  GE makes appliances and engines and stuff right?  (We just found an AM/FM radio in a closet that was in its original GE packaging.  It must be from the 60’s or 70’s. Good luck sending in the warranty registration card.)  GE has changed in the past and continues to change.  It’s current management is under pressure because it has not grown much in a decade.  I started my career at GE and recognize it is a leader in business.

How does a big company like GE foster innovation and prevent the “Not Invented Here” syndrome.  I took away two important approaches.  First, GE prides itself on being number 1 or number 2 in every market it competes in by making sure it understands its customers.  Second, it starts from the top.  And, it requires constant communication and reinforcement.  How many of us have seen a TV ad with something along the lines of GE — Imagination at Work.  Or GE — We Bring Good Things to Life.  Now, I’m not saying that GE is a fabulous example.  It has some of its own problems with NIH.  But, it has succeeded in the business world longer than most.  I do have one suggestion for them–if they will listen to a suggestion from outside the company.  Change your logo.  It’s a bit old looking.