Innovation · Culture change

How to best create an innovation culture in a startup?

Mauricio Cardenas Consulting & Coaching Director at LIM Latam, Leadership in Motion

November 3rd, 2015

In scale-ups innovation is normally left for dedicated teams to achieve. What is the best way to nurture and reinforce an innovation culture in startups?

Steve Owens

November 3rd, 2015

My advice is not to hire anyone that is not an entrepreneur until you have a repeatable business model.  As soon as you hire an "expert", he will anchor to his expertise in much the same way as brick and mortar companies dismissed "on-line" retail - their bias was to create strategies that involved the installed capital (the store) and dismissed strategies that did not involve a physical store.  The installed capital for an expert is his existing knowledge - and he is unlikely to pivot away from it.  After all, it was very costly to obtain it. 

You can easily outsource any expertise you may need.  Don't let these people in your inner circle - at least not until you have a repeatable business model.

Only let "true" entrepreneurs into your inner circle.  Entrepreneurs are a strange lot that thrives on change - most sensible people understand that change is difficult and scary and should be avoided at all cost.


Maddie Grant Workplace Genome Mapper. Culture Change Consultant. Writer. Envelope Pusher.

December 24th, 2016

We believe you need to truly understand your culture before you can improve it. Armed with your Workplace Genome, which measures innovation as one of 8 core culture markers, you can then identify areas where you can move the needle - in processes, structures, rituals, HR practices, etc.

Larry Megugorac Custom Components ⇨ Custom Parts ⇨ Assemblies

November 3rd, 2015

Steve Owens put it correctly in that you need to hire people as creative as yourself or would-be entrepreneurs.....The rank and file people will come after the creative structure has been completed and pointed in the right direction.  

Liza Taylor Communication Specialist at Keyideas Infotech

November 4th, 2015

Treat your employees as matured professionals and they would do you justice. A meeting of once in ten days are more realistic and productive, rather than weekly meetings. Every startup is excited about the new product but one needs to give a certain space to their employees to grow and let them develop in the most organic manner. 

Amol R

November 4th, 2015

I think Innovation has lot to do with asking questions. Establishing an inquisitiveculture requires an open environment in which questions are encouraged no matter how stupid they are.

In addition to this, 'doing the right thing' philosophy also helps. A lot of innovations could get lost because people are ok with things the way they are. Just finish up and done with it.

IMO, its not always easy to hire rock stars. People who are really good at such stuff are either hard to hire or expensive. There are lot of people with potential who can thrive if a right coach helps them along the way.

If you think your don't have enough role models in your team, connect your team to your outside contacts. Invite a guest over for a talk. Such things are good triggers too.

In the end, its just matter of developing a thought culture and just needs a little push.

Pulkit Chaudhary Senior Software Engineer/Architect at Leado

November 4th, 2015

Have people who question everything and are curious. Keep a neat balance between the experienced and the freshers. The experienced people sometimes tend to have a fixed mindset and may ignore the most obvious of things. Having freshers and encouraging them to question will lead to a reconsideration of the methodology being followed and will lead to innovation. 

Also, give your employees enough room to pitch their ideas and to follow the path they feel best. This will inculcate a sense of responsibility for their own innovation. 

Mark Rome CFO, Director of Finance, Controller, Manufacturing, Aerospace & Defense, Construction, Logistics, Software & SaaS

November 6th, 2015

Amol, well said, "I think Innovation has lot to do with asking questions. Establishing an inquisitive culture requires an open environment in which questions are encouraged no matter how stupid they are."

If innovation is part of your corporate strategy, leadership must be steadfast in their efforts to constantly align people (skills, performance levels, decision-making), business processes, projects and work assignments, and infrastructure (IT systems, technology, equipment, facilities, etc.) with your innovation strategy.


Remember to build and maintain flexible work environments that provide employees the freedom to be creative and innovative to solve complex challenges. Your corporate strategic should include a focus on continuous customer discovery.


As Amol pointed out, one way to build and maintain flexible works environments is to listen - solicit feedback from stakeholders (employees, customers, partners) on an ongoing basis, identify the root cause of their concerns, then follow through with meaningful change.

Gabor Nagy Founder / Chief architect at Skyline Robotics

November 4th, 2015

True. Too many meetings kill morale and productivity.
On-demand communication (email, chat etc.) is orders of magnitude more efficient and you can cut-paste content from the already electronic records.
If you need face-to-face interaction, just walk up to the guy/girl.
Not dragging people to too many meeting shows that you respect them and value their time.

If I had to identify, in one word, the reason why the human race has not achieved, and never will achieve, its full potential, that word would be 'meetings'.
- Dave Barry

Carolina Fonseca Team Performance for Tech Startups

November 18th, 2015

In the following of what has been said, you can promote innovation by creating an environment where people share new ideas and ask questions in a more "structured" way.

Meetings might delay and kill productivity when not used properly, but if you leave idea sharing as a concept in the air, you might not get the culture you want. Afterall, culture is not just ideology, it's also a practical matter.

You can create a specific moment, or a sequence of talks/events whatever works for you where your employees actively share new ideas they've thought of and generate discussions for the next few months.

In the long run you can adapt to a format that fits your company better, but to get started it's best if you actually schedule it to happen. Once everyone gets it in their blood, you'll see that this attitude will translate to daily work.

Have a great day!