Not invented here bias can slow down the adoption of good new ideas

Why do good ideas take time to be adopted?

What is not invented here bias?

Even in the digital age new ideas and innovations can take a long time to be adopted by organisations that could benefit from them. Why is this? One explanation is the “If I (or we) didn’t invent it, then it’s not worth much.”

This is sometimes referred to as Not Invented-Here bias. The behavioural economist Dan Ariely conducted experiments to understand why this occurs. He identified that:

  • People appreciate their own ideas a lot more than solutions invented by others.
  • When they have created something themselves people become much more attached to it and can greatly overvalue the potential importance of the idea (see IKEA effect).
  • We sometimes discover ideas ourselves that may have been invented elsewhere. If we adopt the idea we soon overvalue the usefulness  of the idea as if we had invented it ourselves.
  • Not Invented Here bias does encourage a high level of commitment and determination to see our ideas through to the end.

The danger is when people become obsessively attached to their own ideas and fail to objectively evaluate ideas from other sources. Thomas Edison fell into this trap when he tried to dismiss and discredit alternating current (AC) as an alternative to direct current (DC) that he had invented.

Ironically the inventor of AC was working for Edison when he developed it. This meant Edison could have taken the patent for AC. However, Edison was so protective of his own creation that he failed to see that only AC could provide the scale and scope needed for the extensive development and use of  electricity in the modern age.

Companies can also establish cultures focused towards their own beliefs, terminology, processes and products. The overuse of acronyms in companies can facilitate this process by giving the impression that there is a secret insider knowledge and it enables people to talk in a form of shorthand.

This risks creating a kind of inner circle of people who are too internally focused. They over value the importance of their own ideas as they perceive themselves to be privy to all the key information. This kind of culture discourages ideas from outside the company from being taken seriously as the group becomes too insular.

How can we avoid not invented here bias?

It is difficult to stop people using acronyms in business as they are ingrained in our business culture. However, we can help ensure they do not become a hindrance by ensuring diversity and independent thinking in our committees, working-parties and steering groups etc.

  • Avoid having groups that draws people from a single area or department as this will encourage a silo mentality.
  • Always include some people from outside the areas directly affected by a project as this will bring some diversity and independence to the group.
  • Rather than seeking a consensus use voting to make decisions as this will help to avoid ‘groupthink’.
  • Have a clear agenda and select a leader who takes an active role in ensuing everyone has a chance to contribute

The independence of each member of a group is important for intelligent decision making as it helps prevent the mistakes that some people make from becoming correlated. Independent thinking individuals are also more likely to have new information that may be valuable to the group overall. This is summed up well in this quote:

“One key to successful group decisions is getting people to pay much less attention to what everyone else is saying.”   James Surowiecki, The Wisdom of Crowds.

Conclusion:

We see evidence of not invented bias all around us and it is difficult to avoid because we naturally like and defend our own ideas. However, being aware of the bias does allow us to identify simple ways to avoid it having a detrimental influence on our decision making. Avoid looking for consensus when making group decisions and encourage diversity to guard against groupthink.

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  • About the author:  Neal provides digital marketing optimisation consultancy services and has worked for  brands such as Deezer.com, Foxybingo.com, Very.co.uk, partypoker.com and Bgo.com. He uses a variety of techniques, including web analytics, personas, customer journey analysis and customer feedback to improve a website’s conversion rate.