Creating a culture of innovation



It’s a noble quest to build a company that prioritises innovation. Many technology companies speak of creating innovative cultures that challenge staff to constantly push against the boundaries of technology to deliver innovative solutions for customers.

Polymathian is no different. Innovation is at our core, as it’s the roadmap to addressing complex industry challenges. Innovation, by definition, is directly aligned with our ability to increase efficiency and reduce costs for our customers. But innovation isn’t just a word we use; it’s a culture we’ve built.

Teamwork makes the dream work

We are an organisation built around teams. Product teams specifically. Product teams that collaborate. And collaboration builds trust and ownership. And together, they build pride. Our products are best in class because they are a direct expression of the talented and dedicated teams who take pride in creating them.

The biggest advantage of our product team model is how it benefits our customers. Overtime, product team members gain an intimate understanding of the specific problems our customers need solved and use their combined knowledge of industrial mathematics and software development to solve them. The result is a team creating innovative products that solve real problems and not just flashy software features.

The exposure to solving diverse problems across heavy industry has given Polymathian a high-altitude view of its unique challenges. This experience, together with our industrial mathematics capabilities, are why Polymathian is often chosen to collaborate on projects with industry organisations that are driving innovation such as METS Ignited and Electric Mine Consortium. By participating in these collaborative alliances, Polymathian is helping to advance the application of new technologies for more mature industries like rail, mining, and agriculture.

Felxibility and other yoga poses

You can’t write an article about innovation without using words like flexibility and agility. The often-overused adjectives are thrown around frequently when talking about innovation. But at Polymathian, they aren’t just words; they describe our corporate structure.

10-years on, Polymathian is no longer a start-up but has held on tightly to its start-up roots. Our flat corporate structure allows for employee autonomy and access. Employees aren’t hidden under layers of management or handcuffed to policies and procedures. With very short communication paths and the ability to change direction on-demand, employees genuinely hold the power to innovate. Or perhaps it would be better to say Polymathian employees are empowered to innovate. And empowered employees get things done!

Speaking of getting things done, when the company experienced one of its first growing pains, it took exactly one conversation to breathe life into what is now an integrated part of the Polymathian culture: Friday company lunches. These company sponsored lunches used to be as simple as walking to a nearby restaurant, but as the company grew local restaurants could no longer accommodate our large group. The obvious answer to the problem was having lunch delivered, but that required a lot of administrative support. The solution was a chat bot aptly named Chef Friday. Chef decreased administrative time and increased order accuracy. You can learn more about the development of our beloved Chef Friday on our tech blog.

Colleagues who play together stay together

Another cherished perk of working at Polymathian is the annual company ski trip. Before the pandemic, staff would travel to Japan for an epic week of skiing and team building. In a recent discussion with one Polymathian founder, he disclosed something interesting about those trips. (No, not that kind of interesting. What happens in Japan, stays in Japan). He said that staff who didn’t attend the ski trips had a much lower retention rate, and conversely, those who attended had a high retention rate. A perk that was initially a reward for hard work and dedication has emerged as Polymathian’s best employee retention tool.

But what does that have to do with innovation? Social interactions outside of the office breed opportunities for staff to learn from each other and about each other. Studies suggest that staff who bond over shared experiences form high performing teams that communicate better and innovate faster.

Whether we are zip lining through the rain forest or joining together with our partners to share a meal, the leadership team is constantly looking for teambuilding opportunities to challenge staff in unique ways.

Praise be!

“Praise” is the name of a highly used Teams channel at Polymathian. Whether big or small, recognising contributions and accomplishments are embedded into the culture. The praise doesn’t just come from the top, however, it’s often peer to peer, which really exemplifies the respect that is shared among staff. It also speaks loudly to how leadership has facilitated a culture of equality and not an internal fight club.

During our Friday afternoon “all-hands-on-deck” stand up meetings, team leaders celebrate accomplishments and developer contributions to the codebase with the highly sought after Tropofy dollars (custom 3-D printed coins) which can be exchanged for chocolate bars. It’s often the little things that motivate us, and chocolate certainly doesn’t hurt.

Sharing is caring

Each team starts the day with a rundown of what was accomplished yesterday and the priorities for today. These quick stand-up meetings are the foundation of our innovation culture. Communicating daily leads to daily conversations, and conversations lead to innovation. Conversations are the kindling for problem-solving: the embers of a conversation about “what’s for lunch today” often turns into a bonfire of information sharing between colleagues. How often has a casual chat about your favourite episode of The Office turned into a full-blown problem-solving expedition? Think about it.

But we don’t leave something as important as communication to a chance passing in the hallway. Polymathian has constructed formal channels for information sharing. MS Teams is a high-traffic communication tool around the office, whether it’s a social post about meeting up for a weekend hike or asking for help debugging Python script.

In fact, we love communicating so much that we dedicated an entire afternoon to it. Friday afternoons are spent delivering updates on product development, Tropofy enhancements and new business opportunities. It also includes our peer-driven technical knowledge exchange nicknamed “show and tell”. But the most important information we share on Friday afternoons is information about ourselves. We call it “about me”, and every new employee gets initiated into the Polymathian family by giving a short presentation about themselves. It’s a wonderful way to break the ice, find out who is a dog or cat person, and discover how they heard about Polymathian.

Which reminds me, how did you hear about Polymathian?


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