The LinkedIn [in]cubator

December 6, 2012

It has been said that “Innovation is a series of small wins along a truly disruptive trajectory.” That’s why I’m proud to be an executive sponsor for our recently launched [in]cubator program, the next step in employee-led innovation, as written about in Once a quarter, any LinkedIn employee can come up with an idea, put together a team, and pitch their project to the executive staff. If approved, the team gets to spend up to 3 months of dedicated time turning their ideas into reality.

The program was inspired by hackday, a Friday each month when employees are encouraged to work on just about anything they want. We see incredible ideas and prototypes, but there’s a limit to what can be done in a single day.

A group of our “hackday masters” (employees who've won 3 or more hackdays) came up with the concept of [in]cubator as a way to take hackdays to the next level. They evangelized the program internally, pitched the idea to the executive staff, got approval, and have been piloting the program for the last several months. In a sense, [in]cubator was itself the first [in]cubator project, and has now opened the door for many more.

When teams pitch their [in]cubator projects, I have the pleasure of joining a panel of judges that includes CEO Jeff Weiner, co-founder Reid Hoffman, and SVP of Product Deep Nishar. The creativity, variety, and enthusiasm have been inspiring. We’ve seen proposals for internal tools, new product lines & business lines, infrastructure improvements, and human resources programs; the teams have included folks from all over the company, including engineering, product, design, marketing, sales, and human resources.

We see [in]cubator projects as small investments that have the potential to become big wins for the company. So far, we’ve approved five projects. One of our projects, an internal tool called go/book, has already shipped and completely changed how we book meetings at LinkedIn. It offers an intuitive user interface which overlays the availability of each meeting attendee with the availability of each conference room. It works across all 26 international LinkedIn offices and has captured the hearts of those who normally shy away from Exchange. The project was so successful, in fact, that we approved the go/book team for a second round of development.

Whenever the executive staff approves a project, we also sign up as advisors for the team. We meet with the approved teams weekly to give guidance and do everything we can to make them successful.

The next round of [in]cubator kicks off in February. I am excited to see what the teams from the last round hatch and what ideas new teams will bring to pitch.