Start-Up Culture Everywhere

At SXSW in 2014 people from varied kinds of businesses, ranging from marketing to healthcare and education, were throwing out terms like “Scrum”, “Design Thinking” and “Failing Fast” more than the famous SXSW SWAG. These same terms popped up again a few weeks later at a meeting with Hyatt’s digital marketing team in Chicago. Hyatt’s digital team tasked themselves with driving cultural change throughout the corporation and explained they were accomplishing this with “Design Thinking, Failing Fast, and Social Is a Behavior.”

These terms describe how some businesses are responding to the escalating pace of innovation in the digital marketplace. It seems that digital technologies, like mobile communications, the interactive web and big data, are underpinning organizational change in many businesses. It’s interesting that digital teams are reaching outside the walls of the marketing department to lead this change.

Digital teams leading innovation in traditional organizations makes a weird kind of sense. They are early adopters of online tools that help them collaborate and communicate in a fast-paced and complex environment. They also work in a field that changes so rapidly that daily focused learning is a priority. These are skills have inadvertently equipped them to lead organizational change.

It follows that analyzing some of the cultural and work processes underpinning how digital teams structure themselves, and their work may provide valuable insight for any organization striving to gain a competitive edge by nurturing an innovative culture.

So to that end here are some ideas from digital teams adaptable for any organization.

Fail fast, fail hard, fail forward.

“Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.” — Henry Ford

Twitter Founder Biz Stone tells his team to “fail so hard it cracks your spine.” Good digital teams get rid of bad ideas fast by using real-time customer data to optimize and iterate their campaigns. Quick changes require agile workflows which are made possible with great digital project management tools.

Strong digital teams encourage iter­a­tive devel­op­ment and support the idea that important lessons come from trial and error. Technology start-ups understand that their teams must be comfortable pitching bad ideas and fearlessly challenging the status quo.

Lean Management

Your time is limited; so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — that is living with the results of other people’s thinking. — Steve Jobs

Lean is a management theory geared to making innovation less risky. It favors experimentation over elaborate planning, customer feedback over intuition, and iterative design over large-scale development. The key concepts are Minimal Viable Product and Pivoting. New ventures of all kinds are attempting to improve their chances of success by following the principles of failing fast, continually learning and avoiding financial waste.

Lean organizations believe all leaders are entrepreneurs who must take on the associated risks and rewards and who have the autonomy to manage their teams as they see fit. They test everything and think that a dogma is antithetical to iteration. Lean managers believe there’s no such thing as “this is how we do things” and their organizational mantras are “build, measure, learn” and “done is better than perfect.”


“The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and then starting on the first one.”- Mark Twain

Scrum refers to a rugby tactic in which a team packs together and then disperses with a plan to get the ball from one end of the field to the other. Software developers use it to describe project management processes focused on the team rather than individual tasks.

Key aspects are frequent check-ins during which teams identify and resolve roadblocks. Daily scrums meetings happen quickly. Team leaders are asked to explain what they have done since the last meeting, what they are planning to do next and if they foresee any roadblocks. All team members attend the meetings, but only the core members are allowed to participate. Scrum meetings happen in the same time, at the same place, and are strictly time-boxed.


“It’s fine to celebrate success but it is more important to heed the lessons of failure.” Bill Gates

Interactive technology makes us aware of what everyone else is doing all the time. It, therefore, creates a distraction, false urgency and anxiety about what we should be doing. Essentialism refers to the practice of using project management and business practices to create time for managers and their teams ‘to get in the flow’ and leverage the ‘magical power of focus.’

Being ‘in the flow’ means being completely focused on the task at hand, forgetting about the world around you, losing track of time, feeling happy, in control, creative and productive. Business strategies that help employees get ‘in the flow’ include things like off-site quarterly retreats, accountability through defined systems of task management and company respect for focus and mindfulness.

The challenges of staying focused have spurred an ‘Essentialist Movement’ in many technology companies such as Twitter and Google who are promoting mindfulness with innovations such as sleep pods and meditation rooms. The goal is to clean out the closets of our overstuffed work lives, give away the nonessential items, so we can focus our attention on the few things that truly matter.

Design Thinking

My biggest motivation? Just to keep challenging myself. I see life almost like one long University education that I never had — every day I’m learning something new.” — Richard Branson

The myth of innovation is that brilliant ideas leap fully formed from the minds of geniuses. The reality is that most innovations come from a process of rigorous examination through which great ideas are identified and developed.

Design Thinking is a human-centered approach to problem-solving that helps people and organizations become more innovative and creative. It means designing everything from operational procedures to buildings and websites with processes that leverage deep empathy for customer needs and statistical insights into customer behavior.

In a Design Thinking process, iteration is facilitated through intensive immersion with users. It conducts real world experiments to observe behavior and measure intent and ‘releases often.’ Design Thinking is not just applicable to creative industries or people who work in the design field. It’s an approach used by organizations like Kraft Foods, who employed it to revamp their supply chain management processes.

Social is a Behavior

“Formal education will make you a living; self-education will make you a fortune.” — Jim Rohn

This term underpins the idea that there is no such thing as social media or digital objectives. There are only business objectives. This approach asks what do we want to accomplish as a business that digital marketing can influence. The concept is supported by a belief that the ROI of social media can be optimized to promote great internal, as well as external culture and community.

The idea is to use digital media to optimize an organization to provide the best-possible service to its entire ecosystem (including consumers, employees, owners and financial partners) by embedding collaboration, information sharing and active engagement into all aspects of operations and culture. The desired result is a more responsive, adaptable, effective and ultimately more successful company.

What are you doing to drive innovation in 2015?