Honest cultures in startups

This morning NPR profiled an education researcher comparing and contrasting the way different cultures approach intelligence and learning in schools. Though the debate about education methodologies is fascinating, I found the one of the stories in the report reminded me of the importance of transparent cultures in startups.

In 1979, Jim Stigler, a researcher from UMich went to study education in Japan. Sitting in the back of a fourth grade math class, he watched as the teacher asked the class to draw cubes.

The teacher selected the student who was having the greatest difficulty drawing the cube to go to the blackboard and struggle in front of the class as his classmates critiqued his work periodically.

As the student tried again and again to draw a cube, Jim grew anxious - as many of us might.

By the end of the class, the the student drew a cube properly and stood in front of the classroom with great pride. His classmates applauded him.

I admire startup cultures that prioritize transparency and reward struggle because these companies value learning. Very few companies have direct and unwavering paths to market. Most of them have to bob and weave, pivot and rebuild. The team that can identify their challenges, test their assumptions, understand the problems and respond the fastest will ultimately be the team which wins the market.

The first component to such a company is a culture of honest and straightforward feedback. The second component is a team which is willing to support each other through their each respective struggles to learn how best to serve the company.

Every startup will struggle. Building a transparent and honest environment is the key to transforming struggle into progress - like drawing a cube on blackboard with classmates watching.

Published 2012-11-12 in Culture  Startups  Best Practices 


Tomasz Tunguz is partner at Redpoint. I write daily, data-driven blog posts about key questions facing startups. I co-authored the book, Winning with Data. Join more than 20,000 others receiving these blog posts by email.


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