Messily, noisily, nobly

Developing a team of risk-takers is challenging foremost because culture is a bad dog: it resists direct efforts to train it. Posters on the wall don’t create a team’s culture, nor do mandates, hoodies, slideshows, or mission statements.

People follow incentives, systems, and other people. So to foster your risk-takers, you must:

  • Hire people that are weird and endearing.
  • Expect modeling from the experienced people on the team
  • Give people the trust and time to test their ideas,
  • But abandon stuff that isn’t working as quickly as possible.
  • Do not get overly fixated on metrics, which almost always miss something important and ineffable.
  • As a manager, know the difference between an interesting idea and somebody throwing shit at the wall.
  • Distrust grids, bars, and spreadsheets; trust curiosity, experimentation, and people who build relationships outside of their team.

It’s trendy for companies to outwardly praise risk-takers, mad scientists, and leaners-in, those intrepid challengers of status quo. It’s less common for those companies to tolerate the uncertainty and failure that accompanies real risk.

In many companies, the biggest risk you can take as a manager is standing up for your people’s permission to fail – messily, noisily, nobly. Do that, and your fellow adventurers will take notice.