A Strategy for Business Obsolescense: Not-Invented-Here Syndrome (NIHS)…

“Not all the smart people work for you. By leveraging the discoveries of others, companies can produce spectacular results”~ Henry Chesbrough

‘Not-Invented-Here Syndrome (NIHS)’ is a term used to describe persistent social, corporate or  institutional culture that avoids using or buying already existing products, research or knowledge because of their external origins.

Closely related to the ‘Let’s Re-Invent the Wheel’ syndrome, NIHS can be seen in intensities ranging from a mild reluctance to accept new ideas all the way up to a complete rejection. NIHS can be defined as a situation where an external solution is rejected only because it was not internally developed…

in other words, there are no other factors that dictate that an internally developed solution would be superior. As a social phenomenon, ‘Not Invented Here’ Syndrome is manifested as an unwillingness to adopt an idea or product because it originates from another culture, a form of nationalism. IBLRIA is a term which is closely-matched with NIHS, and stands for ‘Invented-But-Let’s-Reinvent-It-Anyway’; it’s the mindset that the work done by a previous company or persons is sub-par or otherwise unacceptable and should be recreated, often from scratch, rather than re-used.

In the blog “Antidote for Not-Invented-Here Syndrome” by encoderer writes: Discovering or inventing something that is completely new (that no one has ever conceived) is very unlikely (virtually zero probability). You are much more likely to succeed by taking an existing idea and applying it in a novel way. I have always (mistakenly) thought that research meant discovering/ inventing something totally new. If I were Albert Einstein, then perhaps I could do that.

Since I’m not, I now realize that a better approach is to expand my learning to many different areas, and then apply ideas from other areas to my area of research. In the book ‘Hard Facts’ by Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert I. Sutton. They talk about benefits to companies of using old ideas in new ways, and they say: “Creativity is mostly sparked by old ideas. Both major creative leaps and incremental improvements come from fiddling with ideas from other places and blending them in new ways”.

 Better ideas result when people act like ‘Nothing-Is- Invented-Here’ and seek new uses for others’ ideas. Unfortunately, too many companies are plagued by the ‘Not-Invented-Here’ Syndrome, where people insist on using home grown ideas, especially ideas that can be ballyhooed as new and different.”

In the article “In Defense of Not-Invented-Here Syndrome by Joel Spolsky writes:  The ‘Not-Invented-Here’ Syndrome is considered a classic management pathology, in which a team refuses to use a technology that they didn’t create themselves. People with NIH syndrome are obviously just being petty, refusing to do what’s in the best interest of the overall organization because they can’t find a way to take credit. The best advice I can offer: If it’s a core business function; do it yourself, no matter what.

Pick your core business competencies and goals, and do those in house. For example: If you’re a software company, writing excellent code is how you’re going to succeed. But, go ahead and outsource the company cafeteria and the CD-ROM duplication. If you’re a pharmaceutical company, do drug research, but don’t write your own accounting package. If you’re a accounting service develop your own accounting system, but don’t try to create your own magazine ads.

If you have customers, never outsource customer service….The only exception to this rule, I suspect, is if your own people are more incompetent than everyone else, so whenever you try to do anything in house, it’s botched up. Yes, there are plenty of places like this. If you’re in one of them, I can’t help you…

In the article “Not-Invented-Here Syndrome” by Wayne Baker writes: Leaders that embrace innovation, and seek the best minds from both the outside and inside, are the ones that will begin to break down the walls of arrogance and the not-invented-here mentality within the enterprise.  A more entrepreneurial culture emerges where people feel more comfortable sharing knowledge and building social capital in order to improve the productivity of the organization.

Merck & Co.’s research chief Peter Kim has made it clear that he thinks Merck & Co.’s own labs aren’t sufficient to replenish its pipeline and the company needs to turn to other companies, both for new drugs and new means of discovering them. Merck’s new strategy is common in an industry where many big companies with aging superior products have turned to biotech firms and smaller drug makers to refill their pipelines.

“There’s a clear correlation between the ability to create innovative products and the ability to grow and to move into new areas of therapeutic opportunity.” Building inter-corporate alliances happens from the top down.  Without the corner office involvement, the not-invented-here syndrome’s immunity to change will prevail.   “This is a high-risk business and you have to place your bets,” Dr. Kim says…

In the blog “Copying Is Often Efficient And Smart” by ‘it’s-not-so-bad’ writes: Right now, in meetings at corporations around the world, some wise people are suffering. They are trapped in rooms where debate rages over how to solve some problem. The rub is that the problem has already been solved, just not by someone in the room; and solutions from outside are ignored. This is the disease known as “NIH,” or “Not-Invented-Here” syndrome, and it’s alive and well in 2010.

Despite the technological advancements in communication, none have eliminated this perennial waste of time. Why is this problem so hard to shake? Will we always be confronted with people who insist on reinventing wheels? Getting people to realize that building on the works of others has produced wonderful things, and it’s much more efficient...

In the article “Overcoming Not-Invented-Here Syndrome” by Michael Nash writes: The primary symptom of NIHS is a rash of re-inventing wheels. Secondary symptoms, though, include large amounts of wasted time and money, along with the corresponding loss of opportunity. Developers who are busy chipping stone into a round shape are not available for other functions… This opportunity cost alone often reaches significant amounts, but is seldom taken into account. NIHS is often found in organizations where no experience exists, and where re-use is not regularly practiced.

Once the benefits of re-use and components are grasped – particularly by project leads and other decision makers – it is hard for NIHS to get a serious hold. The tendency is to look first for an existing solution, and then only reluctantly create something internally once thoroughly convinced that no solution exists that can be easily re-used or adapted…

In the article “Suffering from: Not-Invented-Here Syndrome?” by Helen Kirwan-Taylor writes: A favourite of the boardroom: ‘Not-Invented-Here’ Syndrome afflicts someone who goes to great lengths to stop anyone else’s plan from being approved for the simple reason he couldn’t think of one himself. Often seen as authoritative victims (these people act as if they know what’s going on) secretly suffer from inferiority complexes and the absence of creative thought.

However, they mask this with outspokenness, stubbornness, argument and by sabotaging ideas brought forward by people who actually have them. It can lead to a fatal stifling of innovation. The cure is simple, if risky: Just ask: “What’s your big idea then?” in front of an audience and most will go quiet. However, if it’s the boss who suffers from NIHS (and many do), then the only sensible thing to do is apologize for your silly plan and listen to his even sillier one while nodding frequently and enthusiastically…

In the blog “Not-Invented-Here!” by tom writes: Bringing a solution from the outside can mean a lot of reverse-engineering, debugging, and problem fixing, while if the product had been developed internally, it is possible those problems could have been avoided. For some, NIH is based in hubris.  “We’re the best, and we can do it better than you.”

A company that consistently chooses to re-invent the wheel may do so because it feels it can make a better wheel; simply because its people are better and smarter than the rest, whereas something made by someone outside the company is likely inferior. Other companies adopt NIH polices because they’re worried about patent litigation.  I’ve been involved in lawsuits where two companies met to discuss a merger or patent purchase; disclosures were made to each other, then the deal fell apart and the patent-holding company sued the other for patent infringement when the other later released a product very similar to the patent.

This is symptomatic of the left hand not knowing what the right is doing.  In large corporations, it is entirely possible that R&D is working on a product while deal-markers are considering acquiring an entity outside the company that makes a very similar product, but the deal-makers simply don’t know every scheme that R&D is working on.  One approach, for companies lacking the ability to track information like this, will take is to simply establish a policy that no outside information comes in. They simply don’t entertain outsiders…

‘Not-Invented-Here Syndrome (NIH)’ is a social phenomenon that describes the unwillingness of adopting an idea or a product because of its origin. The term comes along with the general thinking that if those improvements (achieved by others) were worthwhile, we (ourselves) would have already thought of them. Thus, if it’s “not invented here”, it’s not good enough.

This attitude is characteristics of the NIH bias and a symptom of group thinking. And that means, in general, that our ideas (insiders) are valued higher and are more appreciated than the ideas of others (outsiders). In the light of globalization and a wide range of innovative ideas, the NIH phenomenon should be reconsidered.

Academics such as Henry Chesbrough, call for a massive cultural change supporting the concept of cooperation between partners and of open innovation. In this context, some critics of the NIH bias advocate the idea of ‘Proudly-Found-Elsewhere (PFE)’…

“I understand the concept of re-invention, but I don’t understand the connection to Not-Invented-Here. It (Not-Invented-Here) has the ring of an idiomatic phrase that nobody knows how it came into existence.  I always understood it as an oblique reference to the supposition that any thing Not-Invented-Here is not as good as ours…”~Anonymous