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Thinking Outside the Box in Company Culture

By Madhu Mani

Doctor Judy was worried. As the chief scientist in charge of leading her group on the next generation product for her company she had some competition. Her closest competitor had launched a revolutionary product which, in tests, looked much better than their product. She knew that this would affect her company’s market share. She needed to act quickly.

In light of the new development, Dr. Judy immediately called for an emergency meeting of her company’s senior scientists. She decided to brainstorm options.After two hours of heated discussions the followingwere thetop two options that surfacedwith pros and cons:

Develop a rival product along the same lines as the competitor.


  • Flexibility in the design while offering more features than the competitor. The result: capturing the market again.


  • Time needed to market.
  • Risk being viewed as a market follower rather than a leader.

Use the same underlying technology as the rival company product, but innovate on the business model or supporting features.


  • Can quickly launch a plan.


  • May need to sort out intellectual property (IP) issues.
  • How will it be integrated with other internal products?

These are tough decisions to make. What should Dr. Judy do?

Not Invented Here

Before this can be solved more information and data are needed. An innovative company, for example, would not entertain usingthe sameunderlying technology as the rival company. That is because companies with a “not invented here” attitude are one of the biggest killers of open innovation initiatives.Instead a scientist shouldseek inventions”outside the box.”

There are two reasons why it isimportant for a scientist to realize that good inventions and ideas can come from outside an organization:

  1. In an environment where funding is a big issue, the company needs to make sure that its energy is focused on the right initiatives. Only a few initiatives are going to be taken forward and the company needs to select the right ones.
  2. The more internally focused the company is, the more it runs the risk of developing proprietary products and solutions that cannot be easily integrated with other outside products. This will affect the company’s ability to react quickly to changing market situations.

In order to solve the problem a few things must happen:

  1. Cultural changes within the company set by management. Cultural changes must happen within an organization and they will not happen overnight. Changing the culture of the company requires persistent reinforcement from the top of a management team.
  2. Team solutions using outside inventions. There should be incentives for team members. Teams that come up with solutions using outside inventions should be rewarded. This lends more direction to the creative energies of various teams within the company.
  3. Use of “blue sky” initiatives. If there is an opportunity for the company to work on “blue sky” initiatives meaning it has a chance to design an entire new innovative initiative from scratch; this would also help.


When changing corporate culture from the “not invented here” syndrome to the thinking “outside the box” solution top management should be involved and aware. If management sees a negative pattern emerging on a continuous basis in the organizations thinking, management should be quick to take corrective action before the “not invented here” syndrome starts to kill its open innovation initiatives.

About the Author:

Madhu Mani is an IT professional who is interested in innovation and helping innovation projects using technology as a catalyst. He blogs regularly at and welcomes ideas and discussions. Contact Madhu Mani at madhu_m (at) or visit