Dr. Joel Orr
VP of Business Development
KollabNet, Inc.

The human psyche is leery of anything novel. We like what we're used to; we're suspicious of things that are not like what we already know.

In The Secrets of Consulting, Jerry Weinberg points out that a consultant whose advice brings about an improvement of greater than 10% is unlikely to get invited back.

Why? Because management asks, "How could an outsider's advice make things that much better. You who hired the consultant must be incompetent!"

In other words, traditional management is cynical about true innovation. Even while preaching the need for "out-of-the-box" thinking, corporate executives have difficulty believing that someone else's innovation might bring about double-digit improvements in their own business.

Heading up business development and marketing for an enterprise software company has been an eye-opening experience for me. Our product is not like anything else on the market. It automates early design, a phase of the design-to-production process that has been ignored by firms producing engineering software.

It also preserves decision rationale, and connects together all the hitherto-independent parts of the design process, so that everyone is kept informed about proposed changes that might affect their part of the project.

Anyone who sees a demo gets very excited. They have no problem seeing enormous ROI potential. Our price-to-value ratio is such that our product is correctly perceived as a bargain.

Yet many of our prospects have yet to become customers.

Of course, we are not alone in this predicament. I've discovered that anyone introducing a truly innovative tool to the world of engineering faces the same issues. People are afraid of novelty. They've worked hard to get to where they are, and innovation can jeapordize that achievement.

The new tool might obviate some tasks in which they are the acknowledged experts. It might cost some people their jobs. It might make work less pleasant.

So on the one hand, engineers are being challenged - or even ordered - to innovate. Innovation is the life-blood of manufacturing.

On the other hand, those very same engineers are reluctant to try innovative tool technologies. "What we do now is good enough." "How will this affect my organization?" "I'd love to try it, but my teammates would never go for the change in workflow." "We're too busy to even think of trying a new tool right now."

Innovation is an unnatural act. It induces fear, unmitigated by the promise of great gains in productivity. The fear is fear of personal loss - prestige; power; respect. The promises are of gains for the organization, not for the individual.

But the consensus is that the future belongs to those who innovate - and who are willing to try innovative tools.

Will you own your future?

Visit The EIM Coffeehouse, eim.squarespace.com, and discuss this and other fascinating issues.