The antagonist of the innovator is the corporate antibody. Much like antibodies in our immune system attack and destroy foreign objects that might harm the body, “antibodies” in your organization identify and neutralize forces that threaten to destabilize a company. And in much the same way as antibodies can damage the very thing they seek to protect—for instance when they cause the body to reject a transplanted organ — corporate antibodies can stunt a company’s growth when they shut down the fresh ideas and unconventional thinkers it so badly needs.
You’ve probably dealt with these corporate antibodies many times. They have a thousand reasons why something isn’t going to work and are quick to share them with you the minute you propose a new idea. Over the years, I’ve collected a number of the most popular:
- Let’s shelve that for the time being.
- Who is going to do it?
- I have something better.
- We tried that before.
- It won’t fit our operation.
- Not enough return on investment.
- I already thought of that a long time ago.
- We can’t afford that.
- You’ll never get approval.
- You’re on the wrong track.
- Don’t rock the boat.
- The market is not ready yet.
- It’s not a new concept.
- Our customer likes it this way
- We are legally obliged to follow these rules.
When I give presentations and hold workshops I talk about the corporate antibodies. As I click through the slides revealing the pushback people get when they pitch a new idea, the audience inevitably starts to laugh. They’ve either heard them or, worse, said them. Knowing how to recognize and deal with corporate antibodies and these kinds of statements is a skill you need to master.
Why? Because if you don’t know how to deal with this kind of habitual resistance, asking Killer Questions will be futile. Your ideas—no matter how great they are—will never get approval.
Why Corporate Antibodies Fight Back
Understanding how to deal with the corporate antibodies is a critical part of being an innovator. First, look at how the corporate antibody thinks, and how their point-of-view is different from yours. It’s easy to assume they share your enthusiasm and energy for creating new ideas or pushing for innovation. As an innovator, you believe you can convince others to support your idea based on the logic and obvious benefit, not to mention the conviction with which you present it.
The corporate antibody doesn’t see it that way. In some cases their motives come from a good place. They may have spent decades protecting their “body”—be it a department or the corporation in general—from anything that might threaten it. However years of fighting back against radical ideas and unfamiliar concepts can train them to push back against any new idea whatsoever. Instead of using “no” judiciously, they use it as their automatic response.
In other cases the resistance can be motivated by their egos and fears. For example, they may secretly love your idea but turn against it because they wanted to be the person to come up with the game-changer. They may just fear experimenting because of a tumultuous marketplace. Perhaps they like the stability of the status quo and simply feel too comfortable to want to go to the trouble of trying to change. Or they might be fatigued after years of trying—and failing—to push through new ideas of their own. No matter the motivations, these corporate antibodies prevent you from building the kind of culture necessary for creating killer innovations.
So how do you deal with this?
Next weeks post will cover some strategies I’ve used successfully to address the antibodies that have blocked my ideas. In the meantime, check out the Killer Innovations Podcast episode on the 8 ways to deal with innovation/corporate antibodies who are blocking you.