Most every startup wants to be innovative. That’s the essence of being in a startup. To be innovative, most entrepreneurs realize they have to get their culture right. An innovative culture fosters and innovative workplace which builds an innovative company.
So, now the question is how do you build an innovative culture?
To build an innovative culture, I believe you have to encourage experimentation. Lots of it. Most people learn only by experimenting, not by sitting in classrooms and being taught. While it is important to sit and learn the first principles, most everything else needs to be learned by doing. You will have to let people try lots of things and learn what works for your company, your industry, your market and your customers.
The trouble with experimentation is that it breeds failure. Lots of failure. If everyone of your experiments were successful, then you are not taking enough risk, which means the company wont be as innovative. In fact, the leading indicator for innovation in most companies is the number of failures they have. Which means they are taking more, but managed risk. A good metric to measure, is the # of experiments your startup conducts in a unit of time and what the failure rate is.
So, if you do conduct a lot of experiments, you will fail. How do you understand, organize and learn from your failure?
Most companies conduct an audit of their experiments, the hypothesis, the initial learning and the final results. That’s where the the biggest problem is to be found.
Most managers and executives are trained to ask the question –
“Who to blame”?
That’s the question that most meetings post experiments start with? What happened? Why did it happen? Who is to blame?
I propose a small change instead, which will get your people less defensive, more open to taking risks and experimenting.
The right question to ask is –
“What to blame”?
Focusing on the process, steps, methodology and systems brings out the best answers to the question “how do we get better”?
Surprisingly you learn more about people, their strengths, limitations, weaknesses and biases if you focus on the process that was broken instead of assuming that the people messed it up.
For most founding entrepreneur CEO’s this is one approach that works best to foster a culture of innovation and risk taking.
Do you have a manager who has followed this principle? I’d love to understand what you have learned from them. Drop me a note on Twitter. (I do respond to all @ replies BTW).