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Innovation&: Reactance

Updated: Oct 11, 2023


Image: Limited freedom of choice, lack of participation, and evident manipulation lead to reactance in innovation (and life in general).

The successful implementation and acceptance of innovation is a challenging task and requires not only the creative side of innovators but also the entrepreneurial and behavioral-psychological aspects. Only when innovation is successfully implemented with positive outcomes can it be truly considered as such. By nature, people love shortcuts and tend to hold on to what they have already learned, making them skeptical of changes and new ideas. Especially when the ability to make choices is restricted due to organizational, psychological, or time pressure, the reaction is strong. Examples of this include mandatory seat belt wearing, mask mandates, smoking bans, phasing out combustion engines, forced devaluation of Credit Suisse stocks and bonds, and more. These reactions to innovations occur like an "corporate immune system" and result in active or passive resistance to the new. The motivation of people to resist and regain their original freedom of choice is known in behavioral psychology as reactance. Reactance can manifest as direct rejection or unwanted overt or covert negative behavior towards the innovation.

What are the causes of reactance in innovations?

People may reject innovations for various reasons. It could be due to fear of the unknown, ambiguity of the situation, uncertainty about personal risk, potential loss of position, externally enforced organizational or process changes, or simply an existing privileged position. This feeling can be intensified by the loss of control and authority. It can also be challenging to make the most of a new situation if one does not know how to best utilize it because they were never informed or trained about it.

What can be done to address reactance in innovations?

There are several behavioral-psychological methods that can help reduce or eliminate reactance. For instance, approaches from behavior theory can help design the introduction of a new innovation in a way that gives involved individuals more control and authority. This behavior is well-known when dealing with children. Which toy does a child want to play with? Of course, the one they are not allowed to have. How do you get a teenager to do something unreasonable? By telling them it's only for adults. This behavior continues into adulthood.

"You want me to do something, tell me I can't do it."
- Unknown

Small steps, time, and patience

The introduction of a new process can also happen in smaller steps to reduce risk and convey a sense of security. Furthermore, preliminary training can be conducted to ensure that people can become familiar with the innovation and know how to best utilize it. Involving and employing a few motivated employees (intrapreneurs) who actively introduce the innovation and serve as positive internal influencers can help win over the majority of "late majorities" later.

Why business leaders should not mandate innovation?

Mandating innovation from the top and proclaiming an agile and innovative desired organization does not achieve much. People tend to look to their peers for guidance in unclear situations regarding their behavior. To increase the acceptance of innovations, it is essential for people to have a sense of participation, choice, control, and authority. It is also helpful to be able to say "no," continue existing behaviors, and communicate the innovation as an "if you want to..." approach.


By employing behavioral-psychological methods, reactance in innovation can be avoided or significantly reduced. This encourages people to become familiar with the innovation over time. It is crucial to inform and train employees repeatedly about the innovation and help them learn how to best utilize it. These measures help reduce the risk of innovation and provide the involved individuals with more time, control, and authority, ultimately increasing the acceptance of innovations.


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