Inertia Impedes Innovation

December 18, 2006 · Posted in abundance, innovation, strategy · Comment 

When I see a headline that says, “Diabetes Breakthrough”, I’m intrigued. When the article says diabetes was cured with a very cheap natural occurring substance, I get excited. How about you? A group of Canadian researchers found when capsaicin, the stuff that makes hot chili peppers hot, was injected into the pancreas of mice with Type 1 diabetes caused the pancreas to almost immediately begin producing insulin. Amazing!

The big discovery wasn’t that capsaicin could jump start a pancreas to produce insulin again. The big discovery was the root cause of diabetes is in the nervous system, not the immune system. That could change a lot of medical understanding. We could see some huge medical innovations from this discovery.

Why is this titled “Inertia Impedes Innovation”? Immunologists don’t want to accept the finding. Did they doubt the results? No. Did they question the methods of the study? No. Why don’t they want to accept the finding?

Diabetes has long been thought to be caused by your immune system attacking itself. Immunologists have been studying it for decades, it’s “their disease” They simply refused to change their long held believe. The findings were potentially disruptive to their establishment.

Any innovation is disruptive to someone. Even if the innovation will help the person they must first accept the change. These immunologists supposedly were trying to find a cure for diabetes but when a cure falls into their lap they reject it. Why? They reject the cure because it doesn’t fit their view of the world.

One might argue that the immunologists now face loosing their research grants to cure diabetes. It could also be argued that their specialty could loose prominence if other diseases are found to have neurological roots. And there is some embarrassment from missing such a simple cure.

I don’t believe that the driving force behind their rejection of the discovery is so sinister. I believe most people would be happy to find a simple cheap cure for a seriously debilitating disease. I believe the immunologists are afraid to change their view of the world.

Anyone could see that the immunological basis was wrong. If a problem worsens despite lots of smart people with lots of resources struggling on it for decades while more resources are spent on it, there is a flawed assumption. I call it the Law of Bottomless Pits. If the results get worse as the costs increase then you’re doing the wrong thing.

The corollary to the Law of Bottomless Pits is if the solution doesn’t require less money over time, it’s not really solving the problem. Before you jump all over something that isn’t costing less over time make sure it’s the real cause of the cost. Other hidden problems can act like a parasite driving up the cost; so, don’t be too quick to jump to conclusions. Use the Law of Bottomless Pits to point you in the right direction.

As with any discovery it opens so many new doors. A neurological basis for chronic diseases means a ton of cheap and easy cures could be just around the corner. I’m excited at the potential.

Action Items

  • Identify one violator of the Law of Bottom Less Pits, in your organization or society in general.
  • Identify a cure that was rejected because it didn’t fit the current belief.
  • List ways you could positively respond to a disruption of a strongly held belief.
  • Think of a time you resisted changing your believe and how to finally changed.

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