How to build an innovation culture

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The job of a CEO is pretty simple in theory. Your job is to find and motivate your team, to find and motivate your customers and to find and motivate your investors – the order of which you do these defines you as a CEO.

BlueChilli is Australia’s leading innovation centre yet despite our best efforts to productise it, you can’t. You can’t buy “one innovation” or “a month of innovation”. So I believe that innovation is actually an output of culture and a culture for innovation is one founded on three principles:

  • empowerment of people
  • tolerance of failure
  • speed of execution

BlueChilli’s team is motivated following these principles.  (You might recognise these from some senior federal political speeches, this is no coincidence as I shared this philosophy with the government quite early on in the #ideasboom development).

At BlueChilli, I’ve worked hard to develop this culture.  Our staff are empowered to work their own hours and run their own routines.  We use technology and collaboration tools to enable people to work remotely (including while heli-snowboarding in the backcountry of Alaska), we have unlimited sick leave, an “awesome day” per year (opposite of a sick day!), no one works their birthdays. Everyone is provided with the latest laptop and can work where ever they choose from.  By hosting tech and entrepreneurial meetups we have near daily events for our team members to participate in, we hold monthly internal ted-x talks where our staff present to each other, we have generous training budget and a strong culture for further education. These elements encourage empowerment by trusting in people to do what’s necessary.  Our leadership team are given full scope to achieve what the need to do with their team, as long as it aligns with the company vision – which everyone was involved in defining.  Our team have their own ideas they can work on and BlueChilli partners with them to enable them to be developed using the full resources – including capital – of the BlueChilli ecosystem.

Being at the forefront of tech, mistakes are going to happen.  Rather than discourage failure, which pushes it down and hides it – we reward it with a small trophy when someone makes a big mistake.  We meet and learn about it – so failure is not feared, it is celebrated and accepted as a learning exercise which promotes a healthier and stronger team environment.  And we have an automated nerf turret that can shoot anyone with a foam dart when they crash a build server.

Finally, we work fast and we cut out meetings when unnecessary.  Documentation is done in the form of visual pitch decks, meetings are simply standups, we use team communication tools like Slack and we limit formal meetings to just one day a week (Monday).  This removes the time suck that many organisations suffer and means that we are fast.  Very very fast.  The average number of development hours for us to release a full startup is dropping each project we build, to the point that we now have a coveted “200 club” – where the total effort in design, ux, brand, product development, mobile, front and back end engineering, and dev ops, is done for under 200 hours.  Fast.  2 months and around $20k and we’ve launched a startup.

This is how you build innovation.