Ed Lowe’s progressive trinity: Instigate, develop and implement

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By Colleen Killen-Roberts

Recently I’ve been watching several videos that Ed and Darlene Lowe recorded in the early 1990s to both refine and document their vision for the Edward Lowe Foundation. In one of these videos, Mr. Lowe talked about three phases of successful production  —  instigate/innovate, develop and implement — a concept he referred as the “holy trinity of the business world” and the “progressive trinity.”

“Without an idea, there can’t be any action at all,” he said. “But it takes development to get that baby up on its feet. And it takes implementation to get it running in the right direction. For want of implementation, the development is lost. For want of development the idea is lost.”

This concept really resonated with me because I could see how it applies to the foundation’s evolution. The Lowes were at the helm of the instigation phase by both having a vision to help other entrepreneurs be more successful and then creating an endowment to fund the foundation’s efforts.

The development phase really began to flourish when Mark Lange joined the foundation and got us into the niche of serving second-stage entrepreneurs — companies that were beyond the startup phase but hadn’t yet reached maturity. (In terms of numbers we define second-stagers as companies with 10-99 employees and $1 million to $50 million in revenue, although these are loose boundaries.)

Although Mr. Lowe didn’t coin the term “second stage,” he frequently talked about the need to help existing small businesses scale brick walls that were inhibiting their expansion. Mark, along with Penny Lewandowski, helped get the foundation on the national map in terms of advocacy for second-stagers, and they developed relationships with other entrepreneur support organizations across the country.

Most recently, implementation has been our focus: We’ve not only expanded upon retreat and roundtable programs but also launched a number of brand-new programs, including our System for Integrated Growth and the American Academy of Entrepreneurs. It’s been an interesting journey — and a surprisingly easy one, which I chalk up to the solid infrastructure that Mark and Penny helped build for us.

It’s tempting to skip the developmental phase and move directly from innovation to implementation, because that’s the fun part — seeing your idea come alive. Yet I am reminded of the ancient Iroquois philosophy known as the “seventh generation principle,” which calls for decisions made by one group to benefit the next seven generations in the future. I am grateful to all the people who came before me and for how their efforts have made our work easier.

I’m also grateful that Mr. Lowe had the foresight to record so many of his thoughts through his writings and videos. The better we understand who Ed Lowe was and what he wanted to be remembered for, the better we have a chance of executing on that. Taking the time to revisit our archives is important to ensure we remain aligned with our founders’ vision. Another big benefit, it gives us continued inspiration to carry the torch forward!

(Published May 11, 2021)

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Colleen Killen-Roberts
“Entrepreneurs need a bridge between their dreams and reality,” says Colleen Killen-Roberts, Divisional Vice President of Entrepreneurship at the Edward Lowe Foundation. “And that’s where operational expertise comes in. Operations is about creating the necessary infrastructure to take the entrepreneur’s ideas and make them happen.” In this series of articles, Killen-Roberts shares insights gleaned from more than 25 years of operational and fiscal management experience at second-stage companies.