Ingredients of an innovation culture

by Aonghus Stevens

Bringing Asseti to life over the past couple years has been a hyper-paced wild ride full of lessons. One critical element was bringing a team imbued with innovation onboard and structuring an environment in which they have freedom to innovate.

Innovation, particularly within a start up, can feel wild and chaotic. It should feel that way, the power and freedom supercharged by everyone’s combined energy. There's also significant work that must follow innovative ideation – the ideas, vision and direction lead to methodical programmatic work through epics and sprints. Creating the foundation for what comes next.

At Asseti we’ve worked hard to pull a team together that has innovation at its core, and unlock any barriers to innovation in our processes and culture. In truth there isn’t any one thing to achieve this, and indeed those barriers are different for each person. So there’s a combination of efforts required to embed creative confidence and calculated risk-taking into our culture.

We approach this through two lenses; what Asseti needs to provide the team and what the team needs to bring to our culture. We have leadership bringing the core innovative vision and each team member making individual contributions to the innovation journey. It’s not the only way to do it, but it is the method that fits us – and it is actualised rather than a buzzword “innovation” for investor reports.

 

Asseti’s innovation core

Communication about innovation

A well-articulated vision provides people the context necessary to be agile and deliver rapidly. Each person within Asseti knows why they are there and what they’ve been brought on to accomplish. Nobody is told how to do the thing they’re working on but they understand and own the goal. Given the pace we work at, it’s critical that each person can see, decide and act without stopping to question what their fundamental role is.

Empowerment to act

Innovation needs independence in the same way that horses need air. It’s non-negotiable. Autonomy within the vision is baked into Asseti, and in the few instances where approvals are required they happen fast. I’ve seen companies with literal ‘suggestion boxes’ for innovation and it simply doesn’t work – innovation happens, and it absolutely cannot be dissected and codified.

Asseti thrives on a culture of empowerment to act, space in which to fail fast, learn, iterate and move forward.

Iterative adaptability

We haven’t built job descriptions at Asseti and even if we had the time I wouldn’t. People understand their goals and they have autonomy. Job descriptions can be used to straightjacket and while they aren’t the cause of corporate siloes, they are certainly always present where silos exist. Correlation isn’t causation – but it’s still a red flag to me.

I need Asseti to be flexible so we can pivot and take advantage of incremental innovation. Roles are therefore adaptive with huge scope to change the way in which goals are delivered.

Asseti’s innovation journey

Because we don’t codify people’s roles, we need to look at character more than experience. While we obviously need people that know how to deliver their specific goals, we consider that the entry level and spend a far greater amount of time recruiting for qualities.

We’ve found that four qualities have best grown our culture and value delivery; curiosity, creativity courage and trust.

Curiosity

In practice this is exemplified by active desire to learn new things and be exposed to new ideas, both inside and outside of their work. The team’s hobbies and interests reflect this – we have photographers, outdoor explorers, an urban explorer, a couple of experimental chefs, and at least three somewhat advanced amateur astronomers. People curious to discover new things tend to ask more insightful (sometimes constructively inciteful!) questions in meetings and bring new methods and practices to us.

 

Creativity

As creativity drives learnings about new things, it is creativity that enables those new things to be applied in innovative ways during problem solving. Creative people typically want to understand entire ecosystems because that provides the necessary insight to hone suggestions. Asseti fosters creativity with a psychologically safe workspace, so people feel comfortable bringing up ideas that are occasionally – on the face – super weird!

 

Courage

Courage is required to bring strange new ideas forward, even in psychologically safe workspaces. Innovation needs courage because the innovator is essentially putting their reputation on the line (to varying degrees depending on the forum). We need these people at Asseti, to challenge us with bold new ideas.

Trust

Fostering trust has enabled Asseti to grow in surety that ideas will be listened to, there’s no undermining, and good faith permeates collaboration. Trust provides the space to explore opportunities and to be generous with learnings. Collaborative innovation can’t happen without trust.

 

Final thoughts

Asseti is a tight team operating at breakneck velocity, and there may be hiccoughs. We will keep learning, with our innovative core powered by curious, courageous people – and this is the real lesson. This is what has enabled us to bring Asseti to life and ramp at such velocity.

The right people, with the right culture, experience the freedom to innovate – that’s the way to a unicorn! 🚀🚀🚀

 

Best wishes,