The six freedoms innovative companies need - 5min read

Skynamo was recently selected as one of nine finalists, out of 683 entries, for this year's FNB Business Innovation Awards, in partnership with Endeavor South Africa. We didn't win the award, which went to the very deserving (and totally amazing) Saryx team, but we certainly didn't lose.

 

Awards are wonderful pause moments because they create time to reflect. Our business moves so quickly, and there is always So Much Still To Do™ that I seldom stop and think about what we have achieved. The awards process gave me time to consider how far this business, which started as a way to keep some software dev house in 2012, has come and the role innovation has played.

 

Firstly I don't think innovation is an act, an event or even a product. To be honest, I am not even that sure it's an outcome. Although our head of product, Ben, tells me I have gone too far with that one.

 

For me, innovation is a culture – a way of working that keeps a business focused on building better and better products and services. When I get asked about innovation I don't point to the product. I point at our people and how they make the product happen.

 

It starts with an intention, which in Skynamo's case is the statement (and my apologies for the use of the following word, but for the sake of impact, we use it internally): ‘We shouldn't be sh*t!' This leads to the question: "How can we make sure we aren't?'

 

Six years down the line I feel good about our culture. It isn’t perfect but I know that we have some solid people fundamentals in place. These fundamental principles set the culture on the path of continuous improvement. The basis of our innovation culture is permission. We all, regardless of our positions in the company, are:

 

1. Free to Fail

We embrace failure. This doesn't mean we encourage it, but we don't see mistakes or failures as long-term, reputation damaging, career-limiting events. They are merely things that didn't work. What did we learn and how are we going to do things differently next time?

 

2. Free to Fight

Innovation lives in the disagreements. We are all passionate about our customers and product, and this leads to what my mother-in-law would call ‘vibrant' debates where ideas, principles and assumptions are challenged and explored. This energy creates new ideas and ways of seeing the problem or solution. Our discussions are heated, but there is never a winner or loser. By being frank and spirited, everyone is a winner.

 

3. Free to Talk

Anyone can talk to anyone about anything. There is no ‘correct' communications channel and no topics that are out of bounds to anyone, which means information, ideas and innovations flow from everywhere. We all know and respect that the best ideas often come from a ‘naïve’ position. Sometimes it takes an outsider to a problem to see how to break the status quo and be truly innovative.

 

4. Free to be Different

Difference is innovation fuel. It's hard to think in a new way with people who all look, think and live like you. Our diversity balance isn't perfect, but it's a continuous focus because we know it makes us, and our product, better. (We have even employed someone with a Bachelor of Arts degree. THAT'S how seriously we are taking it.)

 

5. Free to be Smart

We are all about employing people who are so smart they make me feel like I report to them. We delight in smart people being smart. Even if it makes us feel stupid.

 

6. Free to Risk

We try things that seem totally unrealistic to achieve - mainly because it's fun. People point out that we don’t have the know how or experience to get them right. They are of course 100% correct, but just because success is unlikely doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t do it! Sometimes these things work - like when added analytics to Skynamo.  And sometimes they don't - like when we tried to add gamification (we haven’t given up on this dream working yet!)  or that dance-off at the year-end function that put one (not to be named) team member into hospital with a snapped tendon. Like I said #Fun.

 

In the end, Skynamo people are free to think, talk, act and experiment, which leads to a product that improves every day. Our ultimate act of innovation is our culture, and our product is the proof.

 

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