Maintaining a Culture of Innovation


Recently I was asked how we at WHOA maintain our culture of innovation. Being relatively new, this has not been a significant difficulty for us. However, as we grow it will become an ever-greater challenge. 

In our years working in innovation, I have seen essentially two primary modes of going about maintaining a culture of innovation. The first is personality driven. Given that an innovative culture requires a free flow of information and a willingness to share ideas openly, the idea of personality driven innovation cultures is to hire those that “fit” with the personality of the founders and the company culture. This can certainly do much to maintain the initial energy and vibrancy of an innovation culture, but it can also lead to pernicious effects as well. For instance, this type of hiring has led to the proliferation of the white-guy, bro-culture startups of Silicon Valley.

The other mode is structure and process driven. The idea is to boil down the methods by which innovations are derived and turn that into formalized structures that anyone can potentially support. This avoids many of the personality driven pitfalls, but of course it has plenty of its own.  At it’s worse, when processes take precedence, people potentially becoming faceless numbers.  

At WHOA, we take an approach of active reflection on our potential gaps. As a company, we fundamentally believe that a diversity of perspectives is vital to the innovation process. The more ways of seeing the world, the more novel avenues of exploration you will have. In this way, we try to actively reflect on what we are missing as a team. This is not about filling quotas, but about filling in gaps in our way of seeing the world. Personality fit is not inherently bad, but it must also be connected with new perspectives to create a rich culture where innovation thrives.

Greg VanderPol