Why companies don’t try new things? Legacy Inertia

Why companies don’t try new things?

That was the question a few colleagues have asked me over the last few weeks.  Especially when stats prove the success of new techniques. I call it “Legacy Inertia.” Thanks David Rose (@dbrose67) for the eloquent term.

Legacy Inertia is the phenomenon that people will continue doing something that reaps moderate results versus trying a new tactic, supported by various forms of evidence of its superior results, because the old “legacy” technique and its results are already accepted in the organization. The perceived risk of not meeting that minimum mediocre expectation is too high to be the one to try something new, even though the results may be infinitely greater.

It all about fear.  Fear of the unknown.  Fear of failing. Fear of success.  Trying something new takes guts.  And most people are risk averse. They think they have far more to lose than to gain by fighting to try something new and gambling on its success.  It’s why large companies find it so difficult to innovate. Hitting the preverbal brick wall.

corporate brick wall

My favorite part of this ailment is that usually when you talk to people they say “yeah…we have to do that…” They nod in agreement…often times they get excited by the prospect.  But when they go back to their organizations and start talking about it…they meet resistance. Resistance kills innovation.

Consider it for yourself.  When you are trying to convince your boss to try video for example in your marketing mix…or when you have an idea of a new product feature…watch it unfold.  First they listen, then they agree and get excited and then when you are ready to take action….excuses commence and innovation stalls.

What do you think? Does this “Legacy Inertia” Exists? How do you combat is in your organizations?


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    • Stephany Speck on October 9, 2012 at 5:00 pm
    • Reply

    I’ve noticed, working in a pretty conservative work environment and with a staff of experienced, successful individuals, the best way to successfully “sell” my ideas has been to listen, acknowledge and verbalize the bullets of concerns presented. Many of the potential obstacles are easily side stepped by empathizing with the opposing viewpoint, while also offering a “solution,” as opposed to a “rebuttle.”

    I also think taking time initially to build trust through interpersonal relationships aids in properly communicating your ideas. If you know the tendencies of the individuals you’re presenting to whom you’re presenting innovative ideas, including their fears, beliefs and values, it really helps in conveying the value of your idea or product. Craft a message specific to them and they’ll respond.

    It’s easier to take a “bull in a china cabinet” approach, but in the long run, it won’t get either of you what you need or want. Diplomacy, tact and interpersonal will get you there and enable both parties to reach their goals (even if those goals are not realized until further into the process).

    Good luck!

    1. Very insightful Stephany. Time and trust are keys to success. I think this is an instance where “size matters”…the larger the organization the harder it is to build relationships and provide “solutions” to all the stakeholders’ objections. It definitely takes patience and determination.

  1. Melissa,

    Totally agree at this notion of legacy inertia. Disruption (even though everyone agrees has a benefit and will cause better outcomes) is hard for groups and teams. That chair gets too comfortable.

    How do I combat it?
    – squeaky wheel – continue to bring the issue up
    – pilot it – what if we just tried it in this one case? Sometimes this allows for a small “yes” before full commitment. One can always get away with more innovation in a “pilot” 🙂


    1. Brilliant Dana! From one who has had success in rocking the innovation, these are excellent tips!

      I hope all is well!

    • Sue Tu on October 9, 2012 at 10:59 pm
    • Reply

    The great thing about my new organisation is the fact that they aren’t afraid to take risks and change things up. Perhaps it’s the difference in culture between a Sales Function verse an Operational Function like HR 🙂

    The challenge we face is more around being able to execute the change effectively within a company that is OK with how things are currently being delivered?

    So for us it’s not necessarily about the innovative idea that is pushed back – but how it is executed. We might be stuck with legacy processes that do the job… but there are ways to do it better?

    Just a thought…

    Thanks for sharing Melissa!

    • Ruth McCullers-Lee on October 10, 2012 at 10:03 am
    • Reply

    Love “legacy inertia” and will borrow that in the near future, no doubt.

    I agree with both Dana and Stephany, above. It’s critical to know your audience and tailor your message to speak to what drives them. With that in mind, a pilot takes the commitment pressure off those in your target audience who are the most resistant to change–those who prefer certainty over risk. I always enjoy reading Ester Mae.

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