Skip to ContentSkip to Navigation

Centre of expertise HRM&OB

Faculty of Economics and Business
Header image Expertisecentrum

Why do we not listen to outside wisdom and evidence? - The “Not-Invented-Here” syndrome

Datum:12 oktober 2020
Auteur:Cheng Chen
Why do we not listen to outside wisdom and evidence? - The “Not-Invented-Here” syndrome
Why do we not listen to outside wisdom and evidence? - The “Not-Invented-Here” syndrome

Information is one of the most important resources needed by organizational teams to survive in the competitive business world. Especially, external information or knowledge which is derived from the outside of the team can benefit team performance and improve innovation as proved by research [1]. According to the “Not-Invented-Here” syndrome (NIH) [2], however, team members are often skeptical about things coming from the outside of their team and tend to perceive external information as less valuable than team internal information. Thus, team members can be reluctant to accept external information despite its great potential for team performance and innovation.

So what is NIH? In their paper which opens the black box of NIH, Antons and Piller (2015) [3] define NIH as a negative attitude towards information (knowledge, ideas, facts, insights, etc.) coming from external sources. NIH exists in many ways and on different levels. For example, on the country level, we see some governments refused to adopt foreign countries’ successful experience in coping with the Covid-19. On the organization level, we see NIH is reflected in Nokia’s and Kodak’s reluctance in addressing the rise of new technology which was derived externally. NIH also exists on the team level as mentioned earlier and on the individual level. Even Huygens and Leibniz, being experts in their fields, did not believe Newton’s concept of universal gravity, and did stuck to their own theories. The consequences of NIH are obviously negative as shown in these examples.

Why does NIH happen? As suggested by Antons and Piller (2015), NIH is an attitude-based bias and therefore the five functions of attitudes can explain why it happens. The ego-defensive function suggests that people reject external knowledge or information to protect their self-esteem derived from their expertise in a certain domain. The value-expressive function suggests that people reject external insights to highlight their own values or ideologies (e.g., anti-maskers protest to express their value of anti-mandate). The social-adjustive function explains why NIH exists in groups: groups need to undervalue wisdom from external parties to maintain their positive group identity as it contributes to the self-esteem of members. NIH also serves the knowledge function because it satisfies people’s need for having a consistent and stable understanding of things happening around them. Finally, people opt for NIH because of the utilitarian function: relying on or creating one’s own knowledge is often more rewarding in terms of incentives and social recognition than adopting others’ knowledge.

How can organizational teams overcome NIH?

First, it would already make a big difference if people can simply acknowledge the existence of NIH and be aware of its consequences. Managers can prevent or change the biased attitude towards external knowledge by informing their employees about the antecedents and implications of NIH and applying de-biasing techniques (see Antons & Piller, 2015, p.207 for details).

Second, managers can establish an incentive scheme that rewards employee’s adoption of valuable external knowledge, instead of only rewarding employees’ creation of their own ideas.

Third, according to the findings of a study conducted by me and my supervisors Bernard Nijstad and Yingjie Yuan, people share externally acquired information with their teams in a controlled manner based on perceived information quality (credibility, newness, and relevance), which is in turn influenced by the expertise of the external source. Therefore, managers can encourage employees to approach expert sources for external information because such information is likely to be shared with and thus leveraged by the team.

Author information: Cheng Chen (cheng.chen is a Ph.D. candidate at the Department of Human Resource Management & Organizational Behavior of the University of Groningen. She works in the team with prof. dr. Bernard Nijstad and dr. Yingjie Yuan. Her research focuses on informational boundary spanning and its implications for team performance.

[1] Joshi, A., Pandey, N., & Han, G. (2009). Bracketing team boundary spanning: An examination of task‐based, team‐level, and contextual antecedents. Journal of Organizational Behavior: The International Journal of Industrial, Occupational and Organizational Psychology and Behavior, 30(6), 731-759.

[2] Katz, R., & Allen, T. J. (1982). Investigating the Not Invented Here (NIH) syndrome: A look at the performance, tenure, and communication patterns of 50 R & D Project Groups. R&D Management, 12(1), 7-20.

[3] Antons, D., & Piller, F. T. (2015). Opening the black box of “Not Invented Here”: Attitudes, decision biases, and behavioral consequences. Academy of Management Perspectives, 29(2), 193-217.