Incubation facilitation: meaning, finding and growing

This article provides an introduction to the practice of incubation facilitation, and considerations when seeking to realise the potential benefits of innovations.

Andrew recently facilitated a session on this topic at a conference lead by Nora Bateson of the International Bateson Institute. The conference theme was Learning Together in Living Systems (‘symmathesy‘): A new way of thinking about problems, peace and plenty.


The origination of an innovation may generate an inquiry into the probable effect of its propagation, and if beneficial, locating of conditions for its nurturing.

This feeling of seeking and finding incubating conditions may be familiar to those doing or creating something new, and may be frequently noticed by those facilitating: learning, startups, change or innovation. So much of the time and energy is spent on finding a ‘fit’ – between products and markets, within teams, with investors and advisers, etc.

So, this practice of ‘incubation facilitation’ seemed worthy of some consideration and discussion. The conference session used case, narratives and metaphors to sketch the landscape of considerations affecting the growth of innovations.

Here we present a summary of some of the key propositions and implications.


Understanding the meaning of these words can provide insights into how to do each well, in practice.

Innovation – etymology is ‘make new’. Useful criteria for telling if something is or isn’t an innovation include: a) was it consciously developed, b) is it a significant improvement, and b) does its use generate net additional value?

Incubation – etymology is ‘to lie upon’, and is closely related to gestate or ‘carry in’. In this context, incubation means value is grown through the interdependent relationships of ideas, innovators and their surrounding ‘systems’. Giving more attention to the people, relationships and context than the ‘innovation’ (entity) itself lend itself to conceptions of ‘founding’ something being finding the ‘ecosystem’ (environment) where its value is appreciated and grown.

Facilitation – etymology is ‘close by’ and meaning is to ‘make easy’. So, rather than a particular activity, facilitation can be the quality of ease, generally.

In combination, facilitation of incubation of innovations can become less about ‘doing’ something in particular, and more about ‘finding’ the ‘place’ where greater value is grown with ease. That is, where there is be best ‘fit’ between the entity and its environment.

This approach is particularly appropriate for this conference, as Bateson famously insisted that the unit of survival (or in this case, growth) is always entity and environment. That is, focusing only an an idea, entity, organism or entrepreneur and ignoring the context in which it is situated is both a mistake in analysis and misunderstanding of ecological processes.

Or, as described in the abstract submitted to the conference: “In incubation, identities, ecosystems and ideas may be newly perceived and positioned in relation with implications for the coherence and endurance of the benefits or unwanted effects through the innovations propagation.

In practice

In practice, this may mean growing innovations is less about drive, acceleration and beating a new path and perhaps something more akin to water divination: using wisdom, science and consideration of may factors to discern a fitting location within the existing system of industries, support services, markets or humans needs. Rather than disruption being the intention, instead it may be enabling growth that enables the whole system’s evolution.

Innovators themselves and facilitators who support them have access to many choices for locating themselves and ideas:

  • in the landscape of culture (e.g. thought leadership),
  • context of communities (e.g. coworking spaces),
  • in seeking funding for commercialisation (e.g. venture capital) and,
  • perhaps choosing to adjust the speed and spread of technologies (e.g. ethics for AI).

With this different conception of ‘incubation’, and recognition of the relevance of the entity and environment, we can consider more factors and make more informed  choices. It’s not that we are creating more complexity in conceiving it this way, just being more conscious of the implications of our choices and clearer about our intention to grow value for systemic benefit.

Growing value

Knowing this now, and expanding our conception of the entities and environment wider, we could start to consciously consider and choose conditions (i.e. incubation facilitation) that may enable growth in value(s) for the benefit of all humanity or the planet. The alternative is very unattractive: simply growing entities that are disruptive, destructive or whose ascendence is at the cost of the health of its environment.

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