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August 6, 2013

Get a Culture of Innovation To Fit Your Company

Posted by Simon Towers (View Profile | View All Posts) at 11:56 AM

famo.us 2D template demonstration[Source:Steve Newcomb http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NdAvOE3SyrU]

Building a culture of innovation can sometimes mean starting with an open template. There exists no single, agreed-upon method for establishing a process for achieving innovation. So it's helpful to look at companies at various stages of their lifespans to see what works ... and what doesn't.

Mature companies derive their culture from many long standing factors -like leadership, processes, and values. Start-up firms, on the other hand, don't have the same business horizon. Their founders might have great ideas and a desire to change the world, but they also want to be (and need to be) rewarded quickly. Internet start-up CEOS are thinking about funding targets, the speed of technological change, consumer tastes, and a drive towards a buy-out or IPO. You can bet these factors influence how such companies seek out and define innovation.

Take for example, a successful software engineer named Steve Newcomb. He sold his Internet search engine Powerset to Microsoft a few years back for $100 million and now runs a start-up called Famo.us. Silicon Valley is abuzz with the unique screening process at his company. To land a job at Famo.us, every one of the start-up's 11 employees must come to a consensus to hire that person and any of the 11 can ding the prospect without giving a reason. And that's the end of the process for an unlucky candidate. The beginning of the quest for a job at Newcomb's company begins with an all-day interview and then a software-coding test which he says very few candidates pass. If a candidate is invited back, the next phase of the test involves working as a paid contractor for up to three months so that the 11 employees can assess whether that person is a cultural fit. The test is also meant to be a gauge of a candidate's technical skills. I think it's safe to say that Newcomb wants his employees to hit the ground running. This philosophy probably finds roots in the fact that, in some industries, highly specific skills and knowledge are crucial to a firm's success. And smaller, more focused organizations often need a more tightly controlled culture because they move aggressively to achieve business objectives

In the end, there is no right answer as to what works. A standard Silicon Valley approach to building an innovation culture may be a disaster in an old, highly respected firm. Start-up investors need to know quickly if their investments will pay off. At a large, mature company with lots of different functions and employees, a leader needs to set in place an innovation culture that addresses a greater diversity of function, backgrounds, and life experiences.

Sometimes a leader simply needs to take that leap of faith and do what feels right in the gut. Because, it's important to find that right corporate innovation DNA.

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