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Lessons from the Vertical Incubator (Silicon Valley)

6 months ago, Carl Sanders-Edwards and I asked – could we bring together leadership development practitioners from some of the world’s best companies to co-design programs together? It turns out the answer was……….. Yes – twice! (About to be thrice – check out details for the next Vertical Incubator hosted by Boeing below).

The San Francisco Vertical Incubator session with some of Silicon Valley’s biggest and best companies was eye opening. As we watched the practitioners spend 48 hours together energetically building new programs and solutions for their companies Carl and I couldn’t help learning a few lessons ourselves. If you are in the business of developing others consider if these lessons also apply for you:

1. People only have time to solve their ‘jobs to be done’

I've spoken to several companies recently who have said how hard it is to get people to show up to events. No one has enough time. We can relate. But strangely we found it relatively easy to get people to sign up to the Incubator. We think it was because it was focused on people’s real work. We told practitioners that they could only come if they had an important project to work on that they were highly motivated to complete. If not, don’t come. One participant told us, “I so needed this time out to focus on this project. This was a godsend.” People came because they didn’t fall behind on their important work. This was their important work – and everyone was helping them complete it! Build solutions that help people get their ‘jobs to be done’ …….er…. done.

2. If they build it, they will come (the IKEA approach to leadership development)

One lesson we got from both Incubators was not to build a leadership solution for the attendees. Admittedly it was tempting to jump in and tell people ‘We know what you should do!’ But we followed research from Harvard Business School that showed that people keep their IKEA sofa more than their expensive sofa when moving house. Why? Because they built the IKEA furniture themselves. If you want someone to feel: ownership, pride and accountability for taking action give them tools, content and inspiration….but let them build the solution themselves!

3. Effective interventions are uncomfortable

Seven years ago I took Ronald Heifetz’ Adaptive Leadership course for a semester at Harvard. It was an awful experience. There were no norms in the class, people interrupted each other constantly and the teacher never taught anything or took control of the classroom. I was uncomfortable every single class and I frequently thought about reasons not to attend. But 7 years later this is the only class I still think about on a regular basis. It was a genius design. If you want to accelerate development you have to bring some heat. If you are trying to develop people and there is no agitation….you’re probably failing.

4. (Public) Measurement shapes behavior

At the end of day two everyone presented their final designs. We were finishing on a high. As an 'experiment' we asked people to grade the final designs on a scale of 1 - 5. We hoped to squeeze out some more feedback and crown a 'winner'. Instead we awoke a monster! Armed with 'permission' to grade, fresh feedback and ideas flowed. It was like we just started the two days again! Presentations changed midstream as designs improved on the fly. It was awesome. It also destroyed any plan of a clean finish. People had to leave while conversations raged on. It only stopped when we were forced out of the room by the janitor! We learned - if you want to energize any group, create real measures and make them public!

This work is fun, agitating and energizing! If you are up for joining a community of world class practitioners at the next Vertical Incubator register for the free webinar to learn more……

Free Webinar: Vertical Incubator Q & A: November 29, 1pm EST

What: Learn more about the Incubator and what you’ll learn and create. Ask any questions you have.

The Next Vertical Incubator: February 19, 20, 2019

Location: Hosted at Boeing’s HQ facilities (which are amazing)


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