How to Incubate Innovation with a Maker Culture

Give your organization the freedom to dream and build with these three tips.

“Building” a culture. It’s making you cringe a little bit. You’re getting flashbacks to failed potluck lunches featuring some vegan soufflé atrocity and two bags of Doritos. “Culture isn’t built!” you scream. “It has to develop and grow naturally. You know less about culture than you do about quality soufflé!”

Calm down. Stop futilely yelling at your screen. Culture does need to be allowed to simply happen. But a desired culture will have a better chance at developing if you set some foundational underpinnings to foster its growth. An organization’s culture is like ivy—it grows as it pleases, but it helps to give it a little something (a little sun, splash of water, an iconic outfield wall) to move things along.

But What is a Maker Culture?

In a maker culture, team members have the freedom to dream, build and create outside the constraints of their normal responsibilities. It means allowing those who were hired to be creative to exercise that creativity in a different outlet. But unlike ivy, a maker culture isn’t merely decoration.

Maker culture has many tangible benefits, including: an increased level of trust and collaboration among co-workers, a strengthening of skills that occurs when they are used in different arenas and a renewed sense of focus and enthusiasm that comes with taking a mental break from one’s typical workload. Recite that list of benefits to yourself the next time you catch someone on your team Googling, “how to power an Easy Bake Oven with hashtags.”

If you hope to foster, nurture and ultimately build a maker culture in your organization, follow these three rules.

1) Maker Culture Bestows Forgiveness and Permission

If you give both freely, no one will have to remember if one is easier to ask for than the other. When your team comes to you with an idea with even a sliver of merit, embrace it with both arms. Help them. Guide them. Work with them to ensure the project ends up being full of teaching moments. And similarly, if your team develops something on the sly, don’t grumble about not going through official channels. Return to helping, guiding and working with them. Your enthusiasm is tacit permission to continue down the road of creating a maker culture.

2) Maker Culture Puts Your Money Where Your Mouth Is

Supportive words are great, but they only go so far. Specifically, not nearly as far as a corporate AmEx card. Yes, creative flights of fancy might occasionally require a trip to Home Depot, a new piece of software or nine more trips to Home Depot. Be okay that investing in a maker culture will have some costs. However, you can make the hits to the bottom line a little softer by carving out a budget for just these sorts of unpredictable expenses.

3) Maker Culture Celebrates The Successes…and the Failures of Innovation

When something is created or built (or almost created or built), spread the news. Use it to show prospective employees the kind of culture your company possesses. Leverage the successes to demonstrate your staff’s talent. Turn the missteps into amusing anecdotes for customers and clients. By having the entire organization embrace the final outputs of a maker culture, you ensure it will thrive, grow and even come to define your organization.

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Recently, Manifest practiced what we’re preaching when a small team in our St. Louis studio set out to answer a question no one was asking, “How much coffee is our office consuming?” With the help of some electrodes, a soldering iron and ruthless coding efficiency, the team developed a tool that would keep track. The result was

Check it out, shame us for our caffeine intake and be inspired to embrace building a maker culture.