- Incubation: Bridging The Gap Between Idea and Implementation
By Joe Gammal
I’ve noticed, over the last few years, that the old adage, “I wish I’d thought of that!” is increasingly being replaced by, “I thought of that! I wish I had done something with that idea!” This shift has largely been missed in the corporate boardroom, however. Most companies seem to still focus only on the pursuit of new ideas, when they should really be learning to implement the big, game-changing, absolutely amazing (and terrifying) ideas that they let sit on the sidelines, gathering dust. In my opinion, this is the emerging challenge for organizations that aspire to be innovative.
There is a truism, in most organizations, that the bigger and more breakthrough the idea, the harder it is going to be to get through the corporate bureaucracy. Why does this happen? For the most part, it is because companies are, either purposefully or unwittingly, set-up so that no one person can cause too much damage. There are more committees and panels and councils in most organizations that anyone can recall without looking at a list. Each has its own set of rules and approval processes that are byzantine and various, all set-up to make sure that no one spends a dime unwisely, or launches something that could damage the brand.
The problem with these bureaucracies is that, in keeping people from doing damage, they are also keeping people from doing anything worthwhile, except the most incremental improvements – no creative destruction, please. Unless people are willing to commit to truly Herculean, and often career-limiting, efforts to fight through the red tape, most organizations face a future of low single-digit growth. Hardly what we aspired to as youth.
At Synecticsworld, we have worked through different models with our clients to understand where the barriers are and how we can make it easier for them (and you) to move innovative solutions forward, and have created an “Incubation process.” So how do you start putting an new idea/concept into incubation?
Follow these 3 basic steps.
- Acknowledge that a new idea is too big or different to be put into the traditional pipeline and that it needs a special approach. Failing to acknowledge this is a critical mistake that most organizations make. Approaching a game-changing idea with the same metrics and methods as we would a brand-extension will surely doom new thinking, possibilities and prospects. Requiring ROI estimates or other financial modeling to be completed before the idea has had a chance to be developed will rarely result in anything but a death sentence. There will be a point at which these new ideas will need to be able to stand-up to such rigor, but if they are truly new and game-changing they will need to be more fully explored and developed significantly before they are ready for this.
- Start building prototypes and getting customer feedback as soon as possible to learn and develop the opportunity. When sharing a new idea internally, people love to hear that customers or users have already shown a strong interest in the concept. I recommend getting out and talking to potential customers as soon as you can. Your prototypes don’t need to be anything exotic. Drawings, rough sketches, mock-ups using construction paper and glue…they all work as long as you can get the idea across and talk to a real consumer about the idea. While formal consumer refinement labs are preferred, there is a lot that you can discover by going to the mall with a pocketful of Starbucks gift cards and a willingness to learn. This can jumpstart your progress and build a sense of momentum that creates excitement in the rest of the organization about the idea.
The lean-start-uppers and design thinkers among you will recognize these rapid prototyping, minimum viable product (MVP), and build-measure-learn approaches. If Open-Innovation is part of your innovation strategy, then this is the time to explore the startup sector for collaborators, or companies on the edge of producing your concept (especially if your concept is technology driven and you are not a tech-company). This collaboration could get you quickly to a testable MVP and put you well on your way to creating something that can be put into the pipeline.
- Identify the stakeholders that will need to be involved in a successful implementation of the idea, and start working with them immediately. One pitfall that too many people fall into is keeping an idea to a small, trusted group of people who do not have the ability to implement by themselves. While there are many reasons this may seem like a good idea, keeping an idea to a small team is like starving it of the oxygen it needs to burn brightly, and it risks throwing water on the whole idea as well. Failing to involve key decision-makers or stakeholders until later in the process risks having numerous obstructions and roadblocks erected as people ask for time to consider what you are proposing (and why they weren’t asked about it in the first place). Most often, this results in delay and/or summary execution of the idea…it is a much smarter solution to involve people in the discussion as soon as you believe it may impact them or their area so that when the idea is ready to move into the pipeline the rest of the organization is already informed and as enthusiastic as you are.
While taking these three simple steps alone will not magically make game-changing ideas happen, they can help in a significant way. The hard work that accompanies making change will still need to take place, but by getting off the starting line and making positive progress you’ll already be ahead of the game. And likely ahead of your competitors.