If you are part of the software development world, no doubt you are familiar with “not invented here” (NIH) syndrome. It is the scourge of the software development culture, the unfortunate tendency within a group of software-minded people to attribute value to the code that members of the group or the group itself has written, while devaluing code, modules or COTS packages that have not been written by members of the group.
“Not invented here” is so prominent that it has a wikipedia entry, with text that assures us that this tendency is indeed a facet of many a social, corporate or institutional culture. Bloggers and even Harvard Business Review have touted its benefits, suggesting that this characteristic of a culture may catalyze innovation.
Today, I attended a meeting where I had an even bigger revelation about NIH. About 10 people attended, and we talked about how to search a large archive of metadata across multiple data sources. Attendees spoke of the problem as something that really needs to be done, as something that our organization really needs to spend time on – and we need resources to do it. There’s only one problem with this picture – a couple of people within the organization have been working on this problem for the past 18 months, have produced a prototype that’s consistently getting about 100 hits a day (which is substantial given the problem domain), and have received positive reviews and helpful suggestions for moving forward from the user community. The releases have been published in inter-organizational emails, the company newsletter, and other venues where it would be very easy for everyone in this meeting to have learned of the new functionality and used it. But apparently no one has bothered to pay attention!
The moral of the story: when a NIH culture is observed, perhaps the resources and opportunities that are available to a group or an organization that could use them are truly invisible to the people who need them. The people can not see the opportunities because they are not looking; they are not paying attention.
Is paying attention to opportunities a value within your software development organization? It requires conscious effort.