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A Word on Antibodies in Corporations...

Let’s talk about ’antibodies’. In recent times this term has been adopted to describe organizational activities that seek to shut down good ideas and new activities. Or slow them down. It’s a term that has given the practice an air of medical sophistication that it doesn’t really deserve. For starters not all antibodies know what they are actually doing. Of course, there are agendas and tunnel vision. But sometimes people lack a basic understanding of what the new idea is looking to solve.

In some cases antibodies in organization can be useful because there is such a thing as a dumb idea. Often top down. These corporate grenades pick up speed as they barrel down the hierarchy, shapeshifting as they penetrate the various functions and impact existing customer or people-facing processes. Reports and data are then summarized back up the chain, picking up misinterpretations and nuance along the way. Often the one or two individuals who came up with a great idea get exactly the feedback they want.

Unless good antibodies get to work. They come in all shapes and sizes up and down the organization. Some come at it from a purely logical, operational perspective. Others have a more nuanced feel for the market: the customers, partners, stakeholders and public.

Whatever their motivation these people are essential for shutting down bad ideas. And that is not an easy task. Ironically, being an antibody that shuts down new creative ideas is a lot easier than one that kills off stupid ideas that come from above. It doesn’t take a lot of throw a spanner in the works of progress from some obscure function, often because there are so many unknown interdependencies and political shenanigans in complex organizations.

People who function as negative antibodies may have some other form of specialist expertise that makes them hard to neutralize…if they can’t be turned. Or they maybe part of a chain of similar-minded people who are defined by their function. Which could be way off the pace of the outside world’s metabolism. Or maybe they have a point and just need help articulating it to improve the idea’s evolution.

Disfunctional corporations are, of course, not all rotten. However, combinations of incentives, management pressure and the threat of poor performance reviews can have outsized impacts on the machinations of the corporation.

Recent studies showing the effect of inserting a few autonomous cars into traffic had interesting results and can offer useful insights. It turned out that just a couple of autonomous cars can reduce phantom traffic jams by improving braking distances. The opposite can be the case in corporations. A few people, wrapped in the safety of legitimate measurements, protected by the laws of the heirarchy can have a major impact on customer success and creativity traffic across the organization. In organizations such as startups and universities & research it’s often easier to flush out these negative antibodies…even if you can’t neutralize them. In corporations it’s tougher without a lot of credit in the bank and power base from which to operate.

But there are also other ways for corporations to explore new ideas without committing significant investment. One of the most effective can be participating in consortiums with external partners who bring unique skills to solving new challenges.

Helping corporations to tap into consortiums of creativity with minimal CAPEX and OPEX outlay is a compelling opportunity. Creating the right conditions for working with startups, VC’s, accelerators, universities & research and government & city institutions can help frack (sustainably) new sources of value, bypassing traditional corporate inertia. This is what I am doing in the Nordic and Baltic region with my organisation, Gaoithe.

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