The NIH (Not Invented Here) Syndrome

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S. Murugan

“We have tried it before.”

“This is the way we do it here.”

If the above sentences are familiar and we agree, ‘Yes, I have said the above in some or many occasions’, certainly it would have stymied our progress and growth.

Generally, after completion of our studies, and with more years of work experience added to it, we would think that we have achieved a peak in knowledge and wouldn’t budge ourselves to open our mind to learn new things.

I too had such kind of habit several years ago up until I had an eye opening experience with a Japanese technocrat who visited our factory for auditing.

When he attempted to suggest a new practice, not only me, but my team typically came back with the refrain, “We have tried that before, sir.”

It is so sad to notice that I had corrupted (?) my team members also with that kind of mindset.

We had the notion that we had perfect control of all costs and quality and had the best technology available, further obviating the need to seek alternatives outside the company. Of course, we had implemented all kinds of systems like 5S, Kaizen, ISO, TQM, etc.

For a week or so, our Japanese technocrat was watching all our activities, noted many data and took many photos. It was only at the final meeting with him that I could understand the kind of bad situation my mill had been in.

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The Japanese technocrat started to present his prepared statement: “I appreciate your kind efforts in managing the factory well” (I knew all Japanese would start their statement with good points first and progressively become aggressive in presenting our bad points. So, I waited with my fingers crossed.)

The technocrat continued: “I would like to inform you that perhaps, you are thinking that it is easy to extol the virtues of best practices culture, but….”

He paused for a moment and looked some where to avoid our direct glances and then continued. “But… it is harder than you think to put them in place. In my opinion you have done a sort of sloganeering rather than fervently follow the best work practices. Wherever I looked, you had the posters on the wall which shout about ‘We believe in best practices’, ‘Best practices are good’, and so on.”

Then he showed his power point presentation which showed the system-deviations that he had found in our factory.

Literally, everybody in that room was knocked down by him.

He also showed about the details of another mill that he had visited a couple of months before. He explained how that mill was better over ours – quality wise, cost wise and productivity wise. And, to my surprise, that mill was not as modernised as ours. I felt so ashamed.

Understanding our feelings, the technocrat attempted to cheer us.

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“I didn’t say you are not good. I just showed you that there exist further ways for improvement. The only thing is for you to listen and absorb the best ones. It is quite natural that you are all focused too inwardly and in that process you all missed to notice that your competitors have built a better and cheaper product than you. My request to you all is to have an open mind to find the world of possibilities for improvement.

“It is only possible if you genuinely hear the outsider views. The outsider may be a consultant, an adviser, your buyer or even a salesperson. They bring in lots of outside views. I have seen in many mills that the higher authorities just assign someone under them to meet such persons. By this, actually they lose a precise feedback or news from the outsider. It is a bummer if they think they would get the information from their subordinates who were assigned to meet the outsiders, as most of the information would be filtered. For me, nobody is not so busy as to not to meet at least some outsiders. I hope, I will see greater improvements in your mill on my next visit.”

As he suggested we changed our habits and have started to grow instead of getting swelled with bad habits.

Now, you may ask, “What is the connection between this story and the title?”

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The bad habit that I mentioned above is called by psychologists as NIH syndrome.

NIH (Not Invented Here) is a tendency for us to avoid things that we didn’t create ourselves. It is often the result of pride that makes us believe that we can solve a problem in a better way than by others’ ideas. This is to have reduced trust in things that we didn’t have a personal involvement in.

In fact, we create an atmosphere where there is little interest in using ideas from outside sources to improve how the things are done.

Having said that, we should not completely ignore NIH as it has some benefits also. With some of the strategic solutions being developed in-house, we will always be on the cutting-edge in today’s tight competition. However, for this, we should have well informed, skilled, and competitive employees, besides the best technical and technological infrastructures.

If we can utilise some of the outside solutions readily, we can save the unnecessary time and efforts of our people being spent in reinventing the wheel. Their precious time and efforts can well be used in other value-added functions.

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