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How to Avoid Adverse Reactions to Innovation

The current global pandemic has quickly disrupted social, educational, political, and financial systems in every country, making 2020 a year of innovation. I can't think of any family or organization that has not faced some level of disruption.

Sometimes in the excitement of looking ahead to future possibilities associated with innovation, it is easy to underestimate and forget to consider the impact of potentially devastating adverse reactions by employees. Employees are essential to innovation adoption and implementation, whether innovation is a new use for artificial intelligence or developing work from home policies.

Understanding Organizational Antibodies

Employees are "like biological antibodies in the human body," where they can both positively and negatively impact organizations (Oster).

Negative innovation antibodies lead to significant organizational harm, and positive innovation antibodies lead to the creation, vetting, and implementation of new ideas. Today's growing marketplace challenges have intensified a fear of loss associated with some new technological innovations. However, in reality, the resistance is often not based on real evidence but rather on negative preconceptions of change.

Adverse Reactions

Negative innovation antibodies can often be identified by their lack of rational objectives versus an employee that is pushing back with valid concerns or speaking truth to leadership. Research has demonstrated that both positive and negative innovation reactions can be anticipated by a person's cognitive style and specific situation. Oreg's Resistance to Change Scale measures can identify positive or negative adoption of innovation reactions before implementation. Leadership using this information can anticipate where an additional emphasis on change management activities will need to be placed.

Overcoming systemic adverse organizational reactions to innovation requires the cultural adoption of a worldview where innovation is boundless, and both the risks and the decisions involved are better understood. Communication can lower the amount of perceived change associated with innovation and reduce the organization's current satisfaction with the status quo. Effective communication begins with sparking an organizational debate and promotes active listening rather than launching a campaign to convince others about a point of view. During innovation, implementation leadership needs to react quickly and decisively to create organizational understanding and align the culture and reward systems to prevent adverse reactions.

To read more about how leaders can foster innovation check out this recent post: Why Most Senior Leaders Fail to Foster Innovation and What to Do About It


Heidenreich, S., & Kraemer, T. (2016). Innovations—Doomed to fail? investigating strategies to overcome passive innovation resistance. Journal of Product Innovation Management, 33(3), 277-297. doi:10.1111/jpim.12273

Oreg, S. (2003). Resistance to change: Developing an individual differences measure. Journal of Applied Psychology, 88(4), 680-693. doi:10.1037/0021-9010.88.4.680

Oster, G. (2009). Listening to Luddites: Innovation antibodies and corporate success. Review of International Comparative Management. vol. 10(4), pages 647-667, October.


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About Dr. Jeff Doolittle

He is the founder of Organizational Talent Consulting in Grand Rapids, MI, and Program Director of online graduate and continuing business education at Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, IL. Executive leaders who work with Jeff describe him as thoughtful, decisive, intelligent, and collaborative. Jeff is a business executive with over twenty years of talent development and organizational strategy experience working with C-suite leaders in Fortune 100, Forbes top 25 private, for-profit, non-profit, and global companies in many industries.

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