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Barriers to Innovation and New Product Development
Part 3 - Technical Arrogance

Published 5 December 2018

To create, develop and nurture new ideas and transform them into successful new product launches for your business, you will always be fighting on two fronts – externally (customers, competitors, regulations, etc.) and internally (organisational structure, and other potential blockers). In this series of short articles, we identify many of the internal barriers you are likely to have to deal with during your career and how you might overcome them.

Technical Arrogance

One self-inflicted barrier that can stifle progress on any project is Technical Arrogance. This is definitely one I will hold my hand up as guilty of in my formative years in industry. I figured that since I was the expert in the subject I was leading, then I should be able to talk about it at meetings and in presentations and everyone will listen surely. How wrong I was. I was also good at coming up with new ideas, so I would often pitch in with potential solutions to technical and operational problems at meetings. But what I learnt about human nature and behaviour over the years is that such suggestions need to be measured, timely and appropriate. People don’t generally like an outsider coming into their business and telling them how to solve their problem (this is a version of the ‘Not Invented Here Syndrome’ – see part 2 of this series), so the thing I had to learn most to try to overcome this trait, was to learn to be more humble. The arrogance thing used to come up quite regularly at my annual appraisal reviews with my bosses so it was definitely a real issue for me that reared its head in many situations; project meetings, departmental meetings, customer meetings, etc. 

I remember one customer that I used to visit regularly in a technical support capacity over several years, where we used to have what I thought were really fruitful meetings, contributing great ideas to help improve their manufacturing processes. Not only trying to offer them better consumable products or develop improved bespoke new products, but also being involved in improving their operational efficiency and the costs surrounding the use of our products in their processes. I felt I was part of their team. One day, my boss (The President of our Group) visited them and he received feedback from the customer that I was ‘technically arrogant’. I’d never heard this term before, but it sure stuck with me. At the time, it was a bit of a punch in the gut for me. Why would they say that? Because I had all the good ideas? I thought that was pretty unfair, I thought that was my job, that was why I was there, I thought I was part of the team. But what that feedback taught me is that it’s not necessarily what you say, it’s how you say it. There was nothing wrong with my ideas and suggestions, but maybe there were too many, and maybe I should have given the other people in the meeting more air time. Fortunately, this barrier is one that tends to diffuse with maturity and by climbing up the corporate ladder and gaining broader roles, because eventually you end up having to lead things which you are not the expert in, and you have to manage teams of experts (some of which may suffer from ‘technical arrogance’). So watch out for this one, because the problem may be you.

Dr Andy Wynn

Managing Director, TTIP Consulting

Adapted from the book ‘Transforming Technology into Profit – a guide to leading new ideas through the complexities of the corporate world and transforming them into successful new products’, available now on Amazon

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