In a rapidly-changing world, innovation is the key to survival for startups. And it’s about much more than developing the next game-changing idea; innovation is fundamental to problem solving, increased productivity and staying one step ahead of the competition.
It doesn’t happen in isolation; creativity is not the preserve of a handful of talented individuals, but the result of a combined effort by a team supported by a culture and mindset of innovation that has been established in their organization.
Make innovation inclusive
Creating a safe environment in the team where everyone can be themselves is the first stage to building a culture of innovation, and the phrase ‘leave your title at the door’ is key to this. A junior member of the team may have a brilliant idea but might be scared to share it, so egos need to be put aside in order to make everyone in the team, regardless of rank, feel confident in putting ideas forward. This greater diversity of thought underpins an innovation mindset.
Shake things up
In establishing such a culture, business founders need to think of innovation as the everyday task of making nonobvious connections, and bringing together things that don’t normally go together, says Inez Cooper, managing director and cofounder of insurance company William Russell. She says: “Reorganize the team frequently and create product squads from different teams. When you put people into a new structure it stimulates them to rethink what they’re doing on a day-to-day basis.”
Employees should be encouraged to play around with new ideas, but need to feel comfortable doing that without fear of failure or a backlash for mistakes. These should be treated as opportunities to learn and strengthen informed decisions in the future.
Encouraging and supporting mini-experiments in the workplace is an important part of creating a mindset for innovation, says Simon Paine, CEO and cofounder of Rebel Business School.
“Employees should be able to create bootstrapped mini-experiments with rapid prototyping, and empower people in the team to run low-cost tests of ideas in real-time,” he says. “Businesses also need to create a culture of no distraction and full immersion to enable focused idea generation.”
Findr, a matching platform for businesses, was founded days before the first U.K. lockdown. Given that the platform was being built by the team remotely from their homes, instilling the right innovative culture had to happen very quickly. Everyone had access to collaboration tools such as Slack, Zoom and Google docs, and the company implemented the structures and processes for prioritizing innovation in the key areas from the outset.
COO Jenny James says: “Progress is reviewed every quarter and we set aside dedicated time to capture innovative ideas that go into our product roadmap as prioritized features. We celebrate our achievements creatively, too, with virtual team-building activities that strengthen that sense of one goal, one team.”
Offer a slice of the pie
True innovation involves getting everyone to bring their best to the table and work beautifully as a team. Ifty Nasir, founder of share scheme platform Vestd incentivizes this collaborative team effort by giving everybody in the company a slice of the pie in the form of shares or options.
“This has a profound psychological effect of getting everybody aligned and fired up to grow the company to its full potential,” he says. “Because everybody has skin in the game, small decisions add up to a much bigger and better whole, and collaboration is enhanced because everybody wants to see the company win.”
Solve your customers’ problems
Engaging with clients, and understanding the biggest challenges that they face, is crucial to building a mindset of innovation in a team, says Rui Ribeiro, CEO and cofounder of cybersecurity startup Jscrambler.
“You and your team are tasked with taking on those challenges using your company’s unique approach, and this is a great way to stimulate innovation,” he says. “Asking them for honest feedback helps you understand what you did right and wrong, and motivates everyone to find the best solution.”
Support the creative mindset
The world of work has changed dramatically since the pandemic, and remote working fast is becoming the norm. Providing the right care and support for employees in the new working paradigm will be vital to maintaining a mindset of innovation within teams now working at a distance.
Traditional staff perks that were often tied to the workplace lose some of their value when large parts of the working week take place at home. Caring about the team is important for inviting innovation, so support, including employee benefits, needs to reflect these changes to working lives.