In class, we’ve talked about developing ideas and looking for specific problems that we see are ripe for an innovative solution. It’s a glamorous image to have the breakaway idea that takes the world by storm.
However, we learn something very important from Brian Chesky and Reid Hoffman in Hoffman’s first episode of his Masters of Scale podcast, titled Handcrafted. But looking way ahead, what happens when you’re running a company and need innovation at an ever-increasing rate? We’ll get to both the gritty beginnings of scaling your startup, and to the significance of humbleness in leading an innovative team.
Brian Chesky is co-founder and CEO of Airbnb, a company we’ve discussed earlier for class as a good problem solving startup example. In 2008, to quickly bring some money to the company, the founders sold boxes of election-themed cereal. They didn’t fully realize that they’d be making the boxes by hand and doing the unglamorous work themselves. Still, that work provided the surge of income needed to overcome debt they had gathered.
The first lesson here is not to put yourself above the gritty work that might not directly relate to your startup. It might be necessary to continue working for a bigger goal. Don’t get so caught up in a single goal that you ignore other opportunities.
Going beyond the hands-on approach for emergency cash, Hoffman and Chesky reinforced the importance of starting small with your audience. “Hand-serving” them and charming them one at a time. Listen to feedback from passionate users, because a truly satisfied customer will turn into multiple customers. As the scale grows and you need to consider the vast whole, it’s critical not to forget the concerns of the individual.
Fast-forward to you building a successful startup into a heavy duty business.
In Hoffman’s sixth episode, Innovation = Managed Chaos, he and former Google CEO Eric Schmidt discuss how upper level management is essential for supporting innovation. But not in the way you might think. This will be important for any of us who do anything resembling building a company, working with creative teams or managing departments.
They emphasized that good managers don’t tell their employees how to innovate. Good managers encourage employees to open up strange and wild ideas, because you can’t predict where the real innovation will come from. You need more than a single brain to properly develop new ideas, so both employees and managers need to be open to challenges from each other.
They explained that to accomplish this, you can’t be a control freak when you’re in a position of power. The goal is bottom-up ideas and top-down decision making, to maximize the ideas while minimizing the decision making hassles. Just like the episode is titled, “managing the chaos” of innovative ideas being thrown around is how an effective upper employee can foster enthusiastic innovation.