Idea Incubators

idea incubatorI have a quote on my wall that says – “There are enough people saying ‘NO’. Find the ones that say yes.” I wrote it one Monday morning after my tenth idea of the year was crushed and tossed into the bin. It wasn’t because the ideas weren’t good. Every single person who I pitched it to said it was an idea worth pursuing except that they couldn’t be the ones sponsoring it.  Over the course of the week, I had heard every possible reason as to why the idea couldn’t be taken forward ranging from not enough money, not enough time, too much tech investment to the best one – the idea is before its time. I can speak from personal experience; there is nothing more disheartening or disengaging than having your idea killed before it has had a chance to breathe.

I am infamous for comparing ideas to babies. I believe that ideas in their early days are a lot like premature babies; expose them to the world too early and they die a premature death. Do these ideas die because they aren’t good? Of, course not. With proper nurturing, they could bloom into miracles. However, if exposed to the world before they’ve found the feet to stand on, it is likely that the ‘devil’s advocates’ and naysayers nip the idea at its bud. What then should we do with these buds of an idea? Like premature babies, they deserve to go into an incubator.

Idea incubators are a safe environment where no one is allowed to say ‘no’. The responsibility of an incubator and those running it is to protect, nurture and grow the ideas that flow into it. The only person allowed to kill an idea while still in the incubator is the one who came up with the idea. Even in that scenario, the idea is tucked away in an easily searchable database in case someone else decides to take and nurture it. The concept of an incubator isn’t new. Startups go through an incubation period all the time.

Let’s walk through the concept of an easy incubator, one baby step at a time.

Step 1: Entry

When a person decides to enter an idea into an incubator, the system asks a few questions, the first being ‘Why are you here?’ – Is it because your idea was rejected elsewhere, it isn’t your expertise or you need more inputs before you can move forward. This helps the system understand why most ideas enter the incubator and encourages the idea generator (the person with the idea) to introspect. This question has no bearing on whether the idea enters the incubator or not.

The next step is to attach five tags that best match the idea. This allows the system to identify similar ideas and share them with the idea generator. The idea generator is encouraged to browse through the ideas already in the incubator or those that have exited the incubator. If the idea is currently under incubation, there is an option to join a watch list and observe the progress of the idea. If it has exited the incubator, one is encouraged to reach out to the idea owner(s). However, post browsing, if the idea generator thinks the idea is unique, would like to go ahead and enter it into the incubator, the person fills an entry form with details and that is the end of step 1. At this stage, the system is dependent on the good intentions of the person entering the idea and trusts that the idea generator has done the due diligence of selecting appropriate tags and browsing existing ideas.

I’m adding below squiggles of what these pages could potentially look like.


Step 2: Review

Once the idea is submitted into the incubator, it enters the review stage. In this stage, the idea flows to a screening panel who do a quick review to check if a similar idea already exists within the incubator or has been implemented elsewhere. These two are the only conditions under which an idea can be rejected. Under both these conditions, the panel connects the idea generator to appropriate people and the idea exits the incubator. If not, the idea is assigned to guides/coaches within the local chapter and proceeds to the incubation stage.


Step 3: Incubation

This is the stage where the magic begins. It is the stage where the idea blooms from a bud into a fully-grown tree. Well, maybe not a large tree but big enough to withstand initial storms. A good incubation period for an idea is between 4 to 8 weeks. The incubation period is finalized at the review stage and given a flexibility of a few weeks. Within this period, those assigned to the idea do everything required – find experts in the field, launch surveys and anthropological studies, connect the idea generator to a host of people who can provide inputs and most importantly be a positive bouncing wall for thoughts. Over the course of the few weeks the idea is kept in an incubator, the idea generator gets a sense of whether the idea deserves pursuing or should be shelved for another time. At the end of the incubation period, the idea generator is offered a choice. Depending on the choice, the appropriate exit is determined.

Step 4: Exit

If the idea generator chooses to kill the idea, she writes a two-page summary of the concept and the journey through the incubator leading up to the decision to kill the idea. This document along with its tags is hosted in the repository for future reference. If she chooses to pursue the idea, the coaches assigned to the idea help form a longer detailed document/presentation that is ready to be pitched to probable sponsors. This document also finds a place in the repository. The coaches use their wide network to provide recommendations of people the idea generator can now reach out to for sponsorship.

Much remains to be hashed in order to make the incubator an everyday reality. A 1000 word piece will do it little justice. However, if you were looking to do one big thing in your organization this year, I’d urge you to try your hand at this. I will too. Together, maybe we’d create a world where ideas are finally treated like they should be.

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