The Incubation Framework

The world of “new” is highly dynamic, highly complex, and highly volatile. Ensuring that something really new becomes successful requires a unique set of rules—a process called “incubation.” Most of what you need for success is already there. Telling the organization what to do next has to be partly replaced by learning from the organization, elegantly orchestrating your existing resources. We partner with business leaders to create frameworks for success (think of it like putting a hothouse over your plants so they can flourish). We create the right environment and provide the right tools to nurture your initial success into a profitable business.

There are four distinct but interrelated components to the Incubation Framework:

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Because startup resources are limited, a razor sharp focus on the right issues at the right time is essential! We partner with incubation leaders and sponsors to successfully deal with quickly shifting bottlenecks along the incubation journey.

Most executives in big organizations are used to leading businesses with hundreds of millions or billions of dollars in revenue. There is a very specific set of rules and paradigms that govern the success of these established revenue generating machines.

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When your challenge is to make something new successful, the road to success is radically unique. You have to key in on the right issues at the right time. There might be only eight of your 19 markets ready for your innovation—throw the “completeness paradigm” overboard and focus on those. Or maybe there is only a handful of people in sales get traction with customers. Rather than training the entire workforce, you need to focus on your positive deviants and build early success.

It is difficult for leaders in big organizations not to create an 18- or 24-month plan that includes dozens of different work streams and provides everybody with metrics to control the rollout.

Incubation strategy is knowing how to shift focus. In a period of months or weeks, your attention may change drastically from finalizing a pilot for a customer to ramping the sales force, then to creating an implementation team, renegotiating a vital partnership, and so on. The shifts happen very quickly—not within quarters or years, but within a month or two, and sometimes just weeks.

Making new things successful is a rollercoaster with very specific leadership challenges! We coach intrapreneurs and leaders through the rocky journey to personal and business success.

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Incubation leadership means that leaders behave in a way that is appropriate and successful in dealing with an established business. Leading a strategic business incubator—being an intrapreneur—requires a very different set of skills. Your personal ups and downs will be extreme, not only in their highs and lows but in their frequency.

There are issues in every business, no question. That is the nature of business. But when you start up something new, it doesn't matter if you are a startup or an intrapreneur in a big corporation—little things that happen every day can mean big steps forward or big steps backwards. Maybe your pilot customer has had a leadership change and they decide that they do not support the pilot anymore. Or that the person who is key in your sales organization had twins and she's going to stay at home as a mom. As the incubation leader, you think, "This is it. We're done. There is no way to salvage this." The next morning, you wake up to an email from another sales saying he had a wonderful meeting playing golf with somebody over the weekend, one thing led to another, and now they are in the process of putting together a two-year plan. Your boss calls you up and says, "Hey, we found some additional budget money that we can use for the incubation." And at the end of that 24-hour period, you stand there and say, "My lord, we are really going to do this. This is going to be great!"

The fluctuation from “we are doomed” to “we are changing the world” happen quite often in this field. This is the number one reason why only a few leaders are capable of actually leading an incubation strategy business incubator. You have to have an emotional resilience in order to make it in this environment. Our team knows this; we have lived this many times, and we can provide tools, perspective, support, and encouragement.

Another vital leadership talent is differentiating between power and standing. Leaders in big organizations are used to giving directions to make something happen. A strategic business incubator usually has to move stuff within an organization—you have to have sales, implementation, and marketing all aligned. You can't just snap your finger and say, "Please do this."

If you want to create a new business within an existing business, you have to lead without power using your standing. The bottom line: the leader of strategic business incubation projects is the most important ingredient.

A self-reinforcing success dynamic driven by three incubation engines is at the core of new business success. We support and help drive each of the three incubation elements:
1. Rapid Learning System
2. Engagement & Scaling Mechanism
3. Progress Gauge & Socialization

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Incubation strategy, incubation leadership, incubation community—these are all things you have in place. You have to nurture them, create them. This is much more than a defined activity; judgment and good thinking tools are needed.

There are 3 specific incubation engines.

Incubation Engine 1: Rapid Learning System

Organizations cannot learn—only individuals can. We systematically identify positive deviants and formalize their insights.

Thanks to the famous book Learning Organizations, people widely believe that organizations can learn. However, this ability is reserved for individuals. Thus, you need a system that captures and formalizes those learnings. In relevant conversations where these new insights are articulated, you either press the record button or take really good notes.

This isn't something done in a traditional marketing style where you set aside monthly times with suppliers or customers. If we find something that resonates really well with customers on the east coast, we need to formalize it within hours to have it available to share with others. That is a Rapid Learning.

Incubation Engine 2: Engagement & Scaling Mechanism

20 years ago, quality information was a scarce resource. Today, it's human attention that's rare. Our experience and tools help our customers win the battle for mindshare.

We want to get the attention of sales reps on, say, the west coast, but they have other stuff in their bags as well. We can't just call and tell them to sell something. We have to create mindshare so that they see that it is in their own interest to be part of this business incubation.

Incubation Engine 3: Progress Gauge

Nothing drives success like success. We know that showing progress is as much about tracking performance as it is about building a success dynamic.

Ultimately, a critical mass of people have to believe in the success of your incubator. As with everything new, a couple of people will think it's a great idea. But there is always this doubt out there that maybe you are investing resources going down the wrong path. You are going to have constant battles with these two dynamics. Things happen that support the belief that you are going to be successful, and things happen that make you worry you won't.

By systematically showing progress, you support the dynamic that is in favor of you succeeding. What does the sales force see in terms of opportunity for the innovation that you are trying to make successful? Put that in some kind of form—not in a spreadsheet with a million numbers, but a simple dashboard that you can show over and over again. People saying, “Oh wow, we are making real progress here” is key.

New businesses are by nature an endangered species within big corporations. They do not contribute a significant amount of revenue compared to the established business lines. As a result, the new business leader is up against established power structures and the constant pressure to show progress. Gauging and communicating progress is not an afterthought—it is a matter of survival.

A specific group of people is at the core of all new business success. We systematically connect the right people across organizational boundaries to create a resourceful incubation community.

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When something is new, nobody has done it before. Nobody knows how to make it successful. There is no plan, no recipe. The question is not, "How am I going to be successful," it's, "Who do I need to be successful." A number of individuals may come to mind. They all sit in very different silos in different parts of the organization. Your job is to connect these people across organizational boundaries, different languages, and different thinking. You as incubation leader do not have to solve all the problems alone. You will certainly fail. Better to tap into the intelligence, experience, and passion of that incubation community to move things forward.

Our sweet spot is where the rubber meets the road. Our focus is NOT on producing PowerPoints. We roll up our sleeves and deliver incubation services. We are like additional members of your team.