Tempting Innovation

Jeffrey Phillips makes a nice distinction between the various ways to adopt ideas of others outside your organization in his post, The sincerest form of flattery:

  • If you are copying ideas in your industry, you’re a follower
  • If you adopt ideas from other industries and apply them in new ways in your industry, you’re an innovator
  • If you package your capabilities and dramatically change another market, your a disrupter

What about adoption of ideas of others inside your organization?  Innovators face a particularly challenging issue getting colleagues to accept their ideas.  Tanya Menon from the University of Chicago describes the paradox of an external idea being viewed as “tempting” while the exact same idea, coming from an internal source, is considered “tainted.”

In a business era that celebrates anything creative, novel, or that demonstrates leadership, “borrowing” or “copying” knowledge from internal colleagues is often not a career-enhancing strategy. Employees may rightly fear that acknowledging the superiority of an internal rival’s ideas would display deference and undermine their own status.

By contrast, the act of incorporating ideas from outside firms is not seen as merely copying, but rather as vigilance, benchmarking, and stealing the thunder of a competitor. An external threat inflames fears about group survival, but does not elicit direct and personal threats to one’s competence or organizational status. As a result, learning from an outside competitor can be much less psychologically painful than learning from a colleague who is a direct rival for promotions and other rewards.

Companies such as Procter & Gamble have perfected getting ideas from outside the organization.  Their Connect + Develop program is considered a best practice in external collaboration.  What companies struggle with is how to overcome the internal acceptance of peer ideas.  One way to approach it is with Team Innovation.  Read: TeamInnovation.pdf.