Creating Your Minimum Viable Culture -- MVC -- DIY Workshop to Dedicate to a Culture of Innovation & Inclusion

Creating Your Minimum Viable Culture -- MVC -- DIY Workshop to Dedicate to a Culture of Innovation & Inclusion


Innovation is the lifeblood of every organization and simply because you’re a startup doesn’t mean you’re innovative. There is no default culture, let alone an innovative one. As Stewart Butterfield (Slack CEO) said, “Every company builds two things; the products they sell and the culture inside the company.”

Yes, Culture with a Cap C is tossed around casually as both noun and verb. So, let us be clear. You need this and it doesn’t have to be hard to figure it out. Founders, this is your guide to building an enviable, inclusive, innovative culture.Inclusive because if you care about innovation, you should care about diversity (the 3D kind, we’ll explain in a minute). There is no reward for diversity without inclusion. Use your nascent existence to break corporate templates and do this well so you can avoid the course-correction down the line. This automated workshop can be done in as little as two hours. The commitment to culture, though? That’s daily.

When we work with corporations and startups to help solve creative, cultural, and innovation problems; so many leaders begin by unpacking their culture in the form of a riff on Netflix’s famous culture deck. In their zeal to emulate what they see as a successful codification of culture, they miss the real tradecraft required to build their own custom culture that delivers financial and innovative results.

Simply put, there are four pillars to MVC enabling you to excavate value from your team, your customers, and your community.

Collaboration: Architect 3D Diversity

Empathy: Create Shared Purpose

Curiosity: Provide Psychological Safety

Creativity: Reward Behaviors

This framework allows you to focus your energy creating better solutions and products for each of them (a.k.a. innovation). The worksheet is here for download and we’ve given you primers below for each section to help facilitate your own exploration and understanding of how to architect your culture.




Your DIY Workshop primers, quadrant by quadrant:

Collaboration: Architect 3D Diversity

1D / Inherent Diversity: Who you are

2D / Acquired Diversity: What you know

3D / Open Diversity: How you listen

1D / Inherent Diversity — Who you are as a company

This is about seeking out employees and equity-holders who have different backgrounds, origin countries, and genders.


  • Use alternative sources to find teammates

  • Ask non-average interview Qs (have them self-identify non-standard experiences which can contribute to the company but aren’t a formal requirement)

  • Ask candidates for unique perspectives or experiences

  • Look for culture-ADDS, not culture-FITS (discomfort is good: do they challenge beliefs you take for granted? Ask volatile questions and engage in healthy debate.)

  • Reach into other categories by attending meetups and events for other industries

  • Work from an alternative location 2x/month; easy = art museum; hard = another state or country

  • Look for alternate education experiences

2D / Acquired Diversity — What I know

This is about gathering a circle of influence (mentors, advisors, equity holders or content) that brings in new perspectives.


  • Read alternative news sources with views unlike yours — read one magazine monthly in a topic you have no experience or interest in

  • Select two Medium authors to follow who write about ANY topic other than what you are working on

  • Find mentors in the non-profit (if you’re for-profit) or for-profit sectors (if you’re non-profit)

  • Encourage employees to engage in new or polarizing cultural experiences; send them to outlier movies, concerts, or exhibitions

3D / Open Diversity- How I listen

This is about actively listening to the edge cases and inviting them into your process.


  • Treat freelancers as part of the team, not as vendors; and solicit authentic feedback

  • Invite giggers and advisers to company events (especially the important ones)

  • Have Slack channels where they can engage with you

  • Have regular, short 1:1’s with freelancers just like you do with employees

  • Build an alumni community; help them in their next venture

  • Seek out neuro-diverse and elevated-sense inputs (teens, elderly, sensory-challenged, artists)

  • Creating an online consumer community for your brand

  • Read comments, Tweets, IGs and other content from your consumers; create a dashboard of trending customer input

  • Engage in authentic exit interviews, by non-direct reports, with two-month follow-ups

  • Day-in-the-life-of- _______ job swap with another department

Empathy: Create Shared Purpose

This is about your ability to understand what motivates you, your customers, and your collaborators to accelerate your success.

It start with defining and demonstrating your shared purpose to appeal to people’s intrinsic motivation.

Because we believe ________ it is really important to us that ___________ which is why we _________, to allow employees and customers to experience _________.

Have your three go-to stories:

Where We Came From

Why We’re Here

Where We’re Going

These stories are remarkably powerful — and you should be tired of telling them. What they do is connect people to your purpose in a way that can be remembered and re-told, and that, my friends is the best form of engagement and marketing.

An example we made for Lyft to illustrate this pillar:


Their three stories:

Where We Came From: The change from Zimride to Lyft was the result of a hackathon in 2013 that sought a means of daily engagement with its users, instead of once or twice a year.

Why We’re Here: To create a transportation revolution.

Where We’re Going: The end of urban car ownership.

Curiosity: Provide Psychological Safety

This is about creating psychological safety; it’s the perfect blend of EQ (Emotional Quotient) and CQ (Curiosity Quotient).

In fact, you can coax a habitual reaction of “I can try that” and “I’ll figure it out” when confronted with the unknown. Provide psychological safety by creating a community of courageous, values-led humans. That community, then, fosters curiosity in each other creating the safety to explore the unknown.


I am using _______ to communicate with our employees, co-founder, investors, and customers.


  • Commit to communicating openly and often: platforms, meetings, 1:1s, blog, events, collateral

  • Choose flexible, asynchronous platforms that get everyone out of email (so, Slack)

  • Idea Mondays: Mondays kind of suck. So on the first Monday of every month, ask everyone to turns off their phones and shut down their email to devote their entire day to … innovation.

  • Daily, visible dashboard of values-metrics or other visible examples of commitment and growth to things that matter

  • Investor newsletter that employees get copied on

  • Weekly Founder smoothie walk-n-talk (get real about your feelings, energy, fears, insights, ideas)

  • Create a starter pack for new employees, advisors, giggers, Board members (from Wifi passwords and belief systems + swag, pics of you and team living your values, a case study about a success and a failure at the company, founding-today-future stories, to a human-centered org chart to understand who is who)


I will create community by _______.


  • Idea boards

  • Announcement Gong (If someone has an idea on doing things better, or wants to share positive news, they sound the gong. When the gong sounds everyone has to stop and listen. This is particularly effective in red flag systems where an employee finds something that is not working or can be done better

  • Assigning everyone a Sensei

  • Establishing principles for generating and sharing of ideas:

  • Vulnerability

  • Building on each other

  • Divergent thinking

  • Withhold judgment


We will learn how to have critical conversations by _______ and will master that skill in ___ months.


  • Collaborating can be messy; you have to learn to elicit potential ideas from people who are different than you are — and you have to be curious about their answer/s

  • Hire a coach or learn how to have inclusive, critical conversations — it’s a skill

  • Feel good Fridays: Every Friday each team member shares 3 things that went well, 1 thing they learned and 3 things they are looking forward to next week. As a result, people reflect on the positives, share success together, and actually get excited about coming to work next week.

  • Do a culture workshop: Sometimes we’re so entrenched in an organization we need an external perspective to understand what our culture really is. Doing a workshop with your employees, and even customers, to talk about how to improve your culture is a really good place to start.

  • Duvet Day Holidays: it’s vital for your team to re-charge their batteries. Give people a couple of ‘duvet days’ a year where if they feel like staying in bed, they can, sparing the fake-sickness messages

Creativity: Reward Behaviors

Effective reward structures encompass verbal, nonverbal, and monetary ways of reinforcing your core values. These are extrinsic rewards for courage, collaboration, empathic experimentation. REWARD = ENCOURAGEMENT, the most obvious key to culture.

Behaviors you may want to reward:

  • 3D diversity in hiring people

  • Idea generation

  • Experimentation

  • Failure

  • Sharing of learning/inspiration

  • Collaboration

  • Commitment to the culture

  • Supportiveness

  • Community building, inclusiveness

  • Critical conversation mastery

  • Meeting nudges

  • X-day streak of no desktop dining

What you may want to reward these behaviors with:

  • Bonus

  • Promotion

  • Appreciation (recognition, digital badges)

  • Additional holidays and duvet days / free days

  • Experiment Days (try anything for a day under $100)

  • Equity

  • Equity Acceleration

  • Cash

  • Working from home

  • Job rotation

  • International assignments

  • Flexibility

  • Autonomy / Pet project support

  • Education

  • Social initiatives/community service

  • Board meeting observation

  • Brekkie with the Founders, Investors

  • Early computer upgrade

  • Cell phone allowance

  • Team dinner

Bottom line: you need to be fluent in your three core stories, commit to the edge, and embrace the discomfort that comes with ideas, change, and opinions outside or your personal echo chamber. The results are worth it. Invite in a diversity of thought and background and create an inclusive culture where diversity is welcomed in the forms of curiosity, courage, experimentation, discovery, and, yes, innovation.

#diversityinnovates #inviteinclusion #courageiscontagious

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