Over time, individuals and teams develop practices that work for them. When another way comes along that could improve results, they often put up a wall that says, if it wasn’t invented here, then it won’t work for us. Even people who genuinely want to improve results and who admit others’ success with different practices can find ways to block having to adopt those practices for themselves.
When you’re trying to influence people to adopt methods that were developed elsewhere, like benchmarking best practices, or standardizing across departments, this resistance can be perplexing. Even if you can show them that the results are better, they convince themselves and you that it won’t work for them.
To understand how to overcome “not invented here” syndrome, we first need to understand why people like to do things the way they currently do them. The following are three key beliefs and some ways to address them.
One factor that contributes to “not invented here” syndrome is ownership. Over time, people develop practices to solve problems for themselves and their customers. They invest their time and effort, and come to see the resulting practices as theirs. They have some pride attached to their way of doing things, so implying that it’s not good enough can be insulting. For teams, the shared experience of solving problems defines the group and how they work together.
To help people adopt outside practices, find ways to help them own it. Give them the opportunity to learn about other practices, so improvements are their idea. Rather than designing it for them, invite them to figure out how to adopt the practices into their current process. Where standardization is necessary across multiple departments, don’t perfect the process for one department without input and then expect others to adopt it. Instead, involve people from the beginning so they feel like they own the solution.
Some people claim that a new process won’t work for them because they’re different from everyone else who is already using it. We all like to think we’re special and that our experience is unique. And it can be hard to argue – there may be many different factors when we compare ourselves to others, like products and customers, or strengths and resources.
Focus first on the similarities. What are the common features and challenges that would indicate a similar solution could work for them? When looking at differences, identify the factors that enable the success of the outside practice, such as leadership and accountability, so you can create a similar platform. Rather than implement a cookie-cutter solution, determine which parts must be consistent and which can be customized to suit the strengths, preferences, and truly unique circumstances of your group.
People like to do what they can predict will work from experience. They’ve adapted their current process to fit their strengths and comfort zones. They’ve also developed their strengths to fit the current process through repetition and by forming habits. They’ve formed their comfort zone by becoming accustomed to the way they do things. It’s how we become efficient and successful. It’s also how we become entrenched in the status quo.
To break people free from their comfort zones, make the status quo uncomfortable. Inspire them to adopt practices that will help them reach new goals. Then, make the new practice more comfortable. Help people be successful by providing tools and skills to ease the transition to a new method. Help people feel successful during the transition through recognition and encouragement. Give them room to make mistakes and learn, so they can adapt and make the new way work for them.
“Not invented here” syndrome happens when people want to do things their way instead of someone else’s way. People prefer their own status quo because it’s theirs, because they’re special, and because it’s comfortable. To facilitate the adoption of outside practices, reframe these beliefs about the current way of doing things, and find ways for them to experience these same beliefs about the new practices.