Incubate ideas to avoid innovation-flu

Like most living beings, ideas are at their most vulnerable when they are born. That is because they are often born through intuition, from no more than an inkling sometimes. They have not proven anything, they have no track record to defend themselves, they are exposed to all sorts of viruses self-styled as ‘rationale reasons why it will not work’.

Hence, the advice to the ideator is: keep your idea to yourself! Refrain from bringing it into the open too quickly. Crucially, remember not to act on the inner judgemental voice of self-doubt: ever since your first little cute poem has been laughed at by your school-mates, you are prone to kill your own new-born ideas yourself for fear that they will miserably let you down. So, give yourself a bit if time: incubate your idea. Let it grow a little and take shape before presenting it.

For innovation managers who screen ideas to pick the ones that will move to the next phase, a technique to foster incubation and concretely let ideas take shape is to require that all ideas that come to the screening gate be supported by Terms of Reference. Nothing complicated or bureaucratic, just something that forces the ideators to incubate their ideas by articulating them.

Finally, as innovation leader you may wonder how to resolve the dilemma posed by the need for incubating an idea and the urgency to move forward before somebody else executes it first. A practical suggestion is to build a network of incubators: people with a feel for how innovation works, who will be readily accessible to ideators who feel the urge to talk someone through their ideas.  Incubators will kindle the ideator’s fire by providing a form of coaching that is solely focused on the potential of the idea, with no regard for possible pitfalls and barriers. Anticipating those will come later in the process. In the inital and most vulnerable stage, all energies have to be focused on giving the idea a chance.

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