There’s a cultural disease plaguing almost every organization in human history. It’s a mind virus which insists that if we didn’t come up with it, then it can’t be any good.
I’ve heard this expressed a few different ways. One is to label the phenomena as if it is a medical ailment, by calling it Not Invented Here Syndrome. Search the web and you’ll find cartoons dedicated to the idea, snarky tweets, academic papers and even a blog post with fancy three dimensional graphics. That last one includes a compact definition of the concept:
Not Invented Here Syndrome – A negative attitude towards knowledge (ideas, technologies) derived from an external source.
Another way to think of it is one my favorite quotes, which was popularized by Grace Hopper:
“The most dangerous phrase in language is ‘We’ve always done it that way.'”
Or simply: Work matters. Ego gets in the way.
In our ten point list of what we mean we say “We are a company”, we’re now more than halfway through:
6. Experience elsewhere is just as valuable as experience here. All ideas are welcome, and the quality of the idea is what will be evaluated—not its source.
Get Thee To Some Experience
Although younger people may not necessarily like to hear it, there is no substitute for experience. If you’ve seen it before, you’re more likely to know what to do when it comes around again. Plus, you may have insights others don’t have based on what you’ve witnessed (or been a part of) in the past.
What’s amazing about experience though, is that anyone can get it if they put in the time. That might be at a competitor down the road, at a school or university, or even as a hobbyist. It can be a hard to accept that somebody else’s experience is valid, but that’s what makes experience valuable.
Again: people’s experience is valuable because it’s different than yours. Which means if you come from elsewhere, you have something else to offer.
Share Your Ideas Already
If you’re here, we want to hear from you. Heck, even if you’re just out there someone, we still want to hear from you. Investing your time to give an opinion is a gift. Everyone should appreciate a present, especially if it’s a thoughtful one. So if you have something to say, speak up!
Unfortunately, too many team members in too many organizations stay silent. An old Harvard Business Review piece explains why right in the title. From If Your Employees Aren’t Speaking Up, Blame Company Culture:
The situational perspective argues that employees fail to speak up because they feel their work environment is not conducive for it. They might fear suffering significant social costs by challenging their bosses.
The other factor is hierarchy. We’ve talked about this a bunch, but generally speaking most companies use an exclusive change process. They fail to include the stakeholders who will be affected by something in decision-making.
Part of everyone’s job is to encourage candor. If you have an idea, speak up. And if other people aren’t speaking up, encourage them to say what’s on their mind.
The Math Checks Out
There’s an expression that probably started in the academic and engineering communities has found its way into Internet meme culture: “the math checks out.” It means what it says—if you run the numbers and follow the formula, you get the result. It doesn’t matter who came up with it, the point is that the answer is absolutely correct.
Likewise, healthy organizations are looking for good answers regardless of their source.. It could be an intern or the CEO. The point is that ideas (and especially getting those ideas executed as results) is what really matters. Ego has no place within the walls of the corporation.
Just Writing It Doesn’t Make It So
It wasn’t that hard to suggest that getting things done is most important of all. But doing it isn’t easy. Learning to be humble and taking time to listen isn’t easy, especially in the rush of business and the ups and downs of every day life.
But, we are trying. Let us know what you think. I promise to earnestly consider whatever you say.