We’ve all experienced how businesses systems and processes work to support organisations. They serve to protect organisations from unwelcome changes.
These same systems and processes are rallied when a ‘threat’ presents itself. That threat can often just be change or innovation. In this way businesses systems act much like antibodies in our bodies that help us fight infections or foreign bodies.
As a general rule everything that a business does is about protecting itself or maintaining the ‘status quo’.
Like our bodies these antibodies sometimes go haywire, they fight or attack what are normally healthy or beneficial responses. These business antibodies need to switched off or controlled when they misjudge the ‘threat’.
Innovation is one such example of a misjudged ‘threat’. Innovation is not alway welcome as it disrupts the status quo and introduces uncertainty resulting mobilising the ‘antibody’ defense. Here is a case study that effectively demonstrates the negative impact of ‘innovation antibodies’ – Kashi and Kellogg’s case study
Treatments for innovation antibodies
Being honesty about the existence of such ‘antibodies’ and not assuming everyone is on the same ‘team’ goes a long way to considering and counteracting them.
Hutch Carpenter suggests developing a ‘heat map’ of the organisation and using the diffusion of innovation theory to target early adopters and early majority to champion and participate in the innovation.
Others have taken the analogy further by suggesting that we should look at work on innovation akin to a ‘petri dish’, enabling us to contain and manage it, build the culture for success and to counteract innovation antibodies.
The leaders role in innovation?
Its also worth considering how you might be acting as an antibody!
Do you spend too much time thinking and not acting. Do you use ‘predictive reasoning’ when looking to solve problems or generate new ideas. Certainly the need to reframe the question and be mindful has been explored here and is relevant to the work you need to do in shifting your approach to innovation.
As the leader you have to set the tone at the top. The importance of creating the right culture to support innovation is also imperative as Mitra Best has identified. She outlines some tactics for fighting these antibodies,
1. At the outset recruit a high-profile and prestigious advocate for the innovation;
2. Identify the rouge antibodies (or naysayers, ego-antibodies) and recruit them in designing key elements of the innovation using their expertise to target their that particularly elements of the innovation;
3. Bring in the Managers (the guardians of the business) as another tranche of key supporters; and
4. Follow through with the appropriate investment in innovation ‘incubation’.
Getting the culture right and engaging your staff is the challenge and Teresa Amabile has identified how to address this challenge, and her advice is relatively simple
“support people and support their progress everyday“
Combating innovation antibodies is not impossible but it does take thoughtful consideration, a planned approach and effort in building and supporting a winning culture.
Consider your role as a leader and manager in addressing business antibodies and be mindful in developing strategies to combat these antibodies.