Fuelled by Innovation, Elevated by Culture

Oscar Karlsten
Apr 2, 2019 · 6 min read

In a world where every organisation is looking for that “next big thing”, I’ve come to realise the true value of leadership and culture, and how it plays a big influence on innovation. How can we foster an environment that creates measurable value by solving problems in a new or better way?

When I was a kid I used to follow my dad to work from time to time. My dad was the CEO of a building & construction material market at the time, and he taught me lessons I had no idea I would benefit from as a leader in a highly innovative tech environment thirty odd or so years later. We would come in incredibly early to work and walk around the warehouses; my dad would greet every employee he met by their first name and ask about their kids, yesterday’s football game, how their bathroom renovation was going and so on. I thought it was incredibly boring as I only wanted to play Donkey Kong and drink soda.

When I first walked down the people management path about ten years ago, my dad (and my brothers who got the same “lesson”) kindly reminded me about these events. Needless to say, it has helped me become a better leader and build cross-functional relationships that are crucial in all my teams day-to-day work and impact. I think this approach can be summarised by:

  1. Lead by example. Treat others how you’d like them to treat you. Easy to say, harder to live by.
  2. Relationships matter. Get to know people, for real. Two or more brains are much better than one. The deeper the relationship, the better the collaboration.
  3. Set high standards. Keep a clean desk towards others (1 & 2 applied) and maintain high standards at both 10,000 feet (because perspective is important) — but also in the details.

Working with people management doesn’t mean you are excused or can shy away from the details. People around you will still need direction, coaching and help. It’s about creating purpose in a vision and empowering employees, making sure they have everything they need to be the best at what they do. Cause if you’re like me, you hire smarter and better people than yourself and then make sure you clear the path for them.

How Culture Elevates Innovation


Somewhere in between is where you’ll find a lot of the missed high-fives! 🤦

Creating an environment where smart creatives can thrive throughout the above spectrum is crucial for innovation, growth and long-term success. As a leader, you need to ensure certain behaviours are deeply rooted and encouraged to establish trust between teams:

  • Question everything. If you want to break the status quo, you need to challenge and question decisions around you. There’s a reason people and teams tend to become uncomfortable when questioned or challenged, it’s a good thing! If you’ve established trust by building relationships that matter, this won’t come across as “attack is best defence” but simply be discussions on how you can improve something inefficient, or even better — how you can help drive the improvement.
  • Create synergies. Both within your team and embolden cross-functional collaboration of day-to-day as well as sharing of ideas. Aim to break down those hidden walls, borders, silos and general “that’s not my job”-attitude. If people want to make an impact they have to realise that it is expected they know what other teams and functions in the business do. In order to succeed, both as a person and as a team — it’s important to contribute throughout the organisation.

“Create an environment in your organisation where collaboration and sharing ideas between teams is not only supported, but expected.”

  • Say yes, communicate, then iterate. There’s a notion of noise vs. getting sh*t done in all organisations. I say, start every opportunity that derives from collaborative efforts with a yes. Communicate in order to hear everyone out but do not use a community-driven approach to agree. Don’t dilute from the effectiveness to execute. Culture might eat strategy for breakfast, as the late Peter Drucker once said, but I’m certain execution eats strategy for lunch.

To the untrained eye, John Doerr showing up here might look out of context. Those who have worked with me know I’m a big fan of John, and an even bigger fan of OKRs. In the last point above, I mentioned noise. Here’s where OKRs, and the way we work with them at Catena Media become paramount to innovation and for our continued growth and long-term success. The constant battle of urgent vs. important, setting the right goals for the right reasons. As Andy Grove is quoted saying in the video; achieving Key Results is “Yes. No. Simple.”. That’s it.

“Eisenhower Matrix”, image from James Clear

In the light of question everything, create synergies and say yes as mentioned above. The why, or the purpose part of OKRs is the question everything. Why are we doing this? What’s the purpose? The what, or the objective is create synergies. What are we doing? What is the expected outcome? What teams need to commit? Who do we need help from? And lastly the how is the say yes part of above.

“Execution is what matters the most.” — Andy Grove

Why My Dad’s Lesson Matters for Innovation

Hiding behind “we can not attract the right people” is the easy way out for any leader of any organisation. It’s also far easier to onboard new people onto a new vision and value proposition than it is to transform and challenge the cultural norms and behaviours that exists today. Needless to say, that’s not why leaders exist in any organisation.

“Change Spectrum” by Daniel Im

Let’s go back to the original short story I gave earlier. By leading by example you can gain crucial traction on change as it will give your teams (another) reason for trusting you as a leader. It’s about creating trust in the vision and the long-term journey to success by not always taking the path of least resistance, or only govern.

As part of driving growth, which in a lot of cases means challenging the status quo and drive change, you need to critically evaluate priorities and critical tasks at hand. Most likely, the projects and activities that may have been important in the past, are no longer relevant given a new situation or direction. This means change will need to happen, and we need leaders to drive this change by leading by example, using relationships created and executing according to high standards.

If you made it all the way here. Thank you for taking the time! ❤️

Referenced or linked in this article:

Images used in this article:

For more articles from Catena Media, take a look at what our Product- and Design teams have written:

If you’d like to work with me and my awesome colleagues, have a look at our open positions at CatenaMedia.com — We’re always looking for great talent!

Catena Media RnD

Catena Media Research and Development - Centre of…