Acknowledge and plan for the reality that the people who seed projects are rarely the ones who keep them alive.

It may sound obvious, but the skills and personalities required to conceive of and launch new initiatives are rarely the same ones as those which need to be in place to maintain it. It might be helpful to think of the phases of launching vs. maintaining a project as seasons of innovation. For eons, and across many cultures, we have shared a model of creating value in one very simple way: the four seasons of the year and how they relate to planting seeds, helping them take root, harvesting and then plowing the ground to ready the next year’s crop. Our colleague, Miles Kierson, defined the phases of execution as formulation, manifestation, realization and execution—four phases which correspond well to spring, summer, fall and winter.

Each stage is vulnerable. As we begin to form new ideas, we have to assess their viability. That means that some people are suggesting new ideas while others are stress-testing them, which is uncomfortable for both parties. And the skills to assess what ideas might actually be launch-ready is very different from ideas that would work in practice.

In the winter, it is time to repair the fields and equipment, plan the next year’s crops and gather our seeds while we subsist off of the reserves from the fall. Perhaps one of the hardest seasons, especially if not planned for well, the end season is also the stage to create room for the planting of the spring. In the business world, the culmination of projects means paying attention to lessons learned and ideas conceived of in the entire year (the gathering of seeds) to integrate into the next year’s work.

In the spring, it is time to scatter as many new ideas as possible on your fields, and make sure the right combination of rain and care are there to help as-yet-unseen ideas begin to take root. Lots of freedom to make decisions exists in the spring—but no results will occur for a while, so good-quality decisions are still very important. The spring can be said to end when plants are beginning to take deeper root and appear from underground, and in the business context, this means that we move to the summer of innovation when ideas are beginning to take shape in material form—to manifest.

Summer’s tasks include making sure that you make critical choices about which plants to nurture and which to let go of as they start to grow, take root and take up room. Your ability to make decisions about the garden has largely shifted from what new ideas to introduce to which ideas to cultivate. The summer can be said to be ending when plants begin to be harvestable, and in the business context, this means that we move to the fall when we begin to be able to move to a maintenance phase where we realize the benefit of our work in consistent, long-term revenue or other results.

In the fall, the task at hand is to quickly and thoroughly harvest all the available product of the planting season. A keen eye and careful hand are needed to fetch every piece of fruit, to know just when to take an apple from the tree and how to store it, distribute it and save its seeds. In the business world, much attention is paid to getting every last piece of fruit—improvements in efficiency and optimization, for example. But just as the skills to gather every piece of fruit have little to do with those needed to know which tree to plant, and must be understood in the larger context of a year of four seasons, so must optimization and process change be conceived of as part of a much larger cycle.