What if there was no gravity? Snow wouldn’t fall. Automobile tires would last forever. And there would be no double-dribble calls during March Madness.

As I sit at my desk contemplating life without gravity, I’m realizing just how valuable it is for our everyday lives. Gravity keeps us from constantly wandering off into unknown areas. It allows us to develop a familiarity with a physical space we call home, and all of the psychological comforts that go with it. Gravity keeps us grounded (literally).

But gravity has an evil twin that can be a very negative force for those who encounter it. In the world of innovation, it goes by the name “corporate gravity.”

Innovation Roadblock

It exists in every company but cannot be found on the organization chart or in the employee manual. Corporate gravity is an invisible force.

In the early days of an organization, corporate gravity emerges as a force for good, as it helps define the organization and the policies and procedures for getting things done. You know this invisible force exists when you hear an employee say, “That’s the way we do things around here.”

Corporate Gravity Gathers Strength

Year after year, corporate gravity grows and gets stronger. Organizational success reinforces previous behavior and gravity – “It worked last time; let’s do the same thing this time.”  Traditions and habits become so ingrained that they take the form of invisible rules. Before you know it, all action is just a repeat of previous actions.

If the Earth’s gravity got stronger every year, think about the impact. It would take a lot more effort to move around, to get things done. Staying in the hammock in the back yard would have much greater appeal than climbing a mountain. Well the same thing happens with increased corporate gravity – it takes more work to try new things than to repeat old things. And that is when corporate gravity goes over to the dark side.

Next time, we will look at an example of corporate gravity and consider ways to overcome it. Where does corporate gravity show up in your organization?

Doug Bate is a Boston-based consultant with Insigniam, an international management consulting company. Connect with Doug at the Insigniam Executive Forum on LinkedIn.

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