Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Strangling Innovation

Whether called an innovation antibody, organizational antibody, or devil’s advocate, a malcontent employee may effectively shortstop corporate innovation. As Tom Kelley of IDEO said, “The Devil’s Advocate may be the biggest innovation killer in America today…The Devil’s Advocate encourages idea-wreckers to assume the most negative possible perspective, one that sees only the downside, the problems, the disasters-in-waiting. Once those floodgates are open, they can drown a new initiative in negativity.” Tony Davila similarly noted, “Typically, the more radical the innovation and the more it challenges the status quo, the more and stronger are the antibodies. Also, the greater the past successes of the company, the greater are the organizational antibodies,” and, “As complacency grows, organizational antibodies become more prevalent. Good ideas are attacked because they would require more change, and the organization is complacent—so complacent that it encourages rather than fights organizational antibodies.”

Innovation antibodies rarely publicly challenge innovation efforts “head-on.” Instead, one preferred method most commonly used to slow innovation progress to a crawl during times of financial exigency is to quietly influence and take control of the development of corporate policies and procedures surrounding innovation practices. Few bright employees volunteer to review and update procedures manuals, but wily innovation antibodies realize that burying innovation practices in convoluted policies and procedures effectively kills them. If unchecked, the underground control of corporate innovation policies and procedures by corporate antibodies will slow innovation so that it finally experiences death by inertia. Who has volunteered to “refine” your organizational policies and procedures, and where is the bus headed now?

Dr. Gary Oster
Regent University
School of Global Leadership & Entrepreneurship


Innovation, innovation policies and procedures, innovation antibody, leadership, strategy


Davila, T., Epstein, M., & Shelton, R. (2006). Making innovation work. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Wharton School Publishing.
Kelley, T. (2005). The ten faces of innovation. New York: Currency Doubleday.