The very nature of a startup is that of innovation. Everyone who founds a startup does so because they have a fresh idea or because they want to replicate an already successful idea in a different context. For whatever reason a startup is founded, its growth relies on innovation.

It is one thing for a startup idea to be innovative and it is another thing for the startup itself to be innovative. The value of the idea is in the execution. If a startup must be innovative, it is up to the people working there to drive this innovation. And the best way to drive innovation in a startup is by making a culture of it. I reckon that a startup with a culture of innovation (which means employees engage in lots of creative and critical thinking) will never run out of innovative ways to solve problems. I also reckon that such startups will be smart enough to respond to change when they need to.

With all this said, the question becomes: how does a startup create and maintain a culture of innovation?

Be intentional about it

The first thing every startup founder and employee must have at the back of their mind is that a culture of innovation requires proactivity. It is not a result of happenstance.

You have to decide to be innovative and put measures in place to make sure that happens. This means you must constantly communicate this culture to your employees, in words and in action.

Encourage growth

Not a lot of startups are known for giving employees room to grow. As a startup founder, you have to realize that your people are spending most of their time with each other. And the people they communicate with the most go a long way in shaping how they think. So if your employees are not reading and learning, communicating fresh ideas and insights with each other, how will they grow?

Understand that your people can never perform beyond the level of their ability or knowledge. So if they don’t know better, they won’t act better.

Put measures in place that will help your employees grow. Organize training sessions, bootcamps, or even small book clubs. Just find a way to build up their minds and abilities.

Encourage employees to generate ideas

To foster the culture of innovation in your startup, you need to welcome ideas and input from your employees. One big mistake you can make, as a founder, is to think you have all the best ideas. Or to think the best way to solve problems is by running off to ask for advice from your ‘mentor’ somewhere.

Asking your employees to generate ideas, and you genuinely considering them, is a good way of encouraging an innovative startup culture. Breed intrapreneurs, not minions.

Apply the 80/20 principle

This principle is a simple formula that suggests you focus on what works best and discard the rest. Of course there isn’t always a way to measure the 80-20 ratio but you get the idea, don’t you?

The truth is, not every idea you have will work out. Not every idea your employees suggest will turn out great. So you apply this principle as a thinking guide. Make an inventory of the things that are working out in your startup and improve upon them. Discard the rest or save them for another time and season.

Keep your best people

You’re a startup founder, you’re not Pharaoh. You can just let people go. You should know who your best hands are, and know that there is every possibility that they can leave you at any time. Because you know this, you have to hold on to them. These are the people that will offer continuity to your culture of innovation. Them leaving will simply mean you will be left with the other (not-the-best) people. You wouldn’t want that now, would you?

Photo Credit: anieto2k via Compfight cc

David Adeleke Author

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