The Man in Blue


Being a good human

When we were first starting out at Canva I used to read articles about the importance of defining the culture of your startup and laugh. “Why would you ever need to do that? We can just talk to our team over the table at lunchtime and figure out where we want Canva to go!”

Now we have 10 lunch tables, they’re each 15 metres long, and half of them are in another country. Culture is an important thing for us.

The importance of culture was really driven home for me in this description of Soundcloud’s progression while building their startup:

“When they started out, our co-founders Alex and Eric believed that they were creating a great product. Then they realized that they were creating a great company that creates great products. Finally, they realized that it was most important of all to create a culture that enables the creation of a great company that creates great products.”

Last year we refined our values – which had been pretty vague and numbered in double digits – down to six. And we thought long and hard about what they should be. While culture doesn’t just equate to some values that are written in a Google doc, the act of committing them to paper is a powerful part of defining the culture and acts as a helpful starting point for newcomers to understand what Canva is all about. So I think they’re important.

Culture and values are something that we constantly have to communicate because, A: new people are constantly joining the company who are hearing about all this stuff for the first time; and B: it takes time and repetition for people to ingest and understand all the nuances of what the culture means.

At last week’s all-hands gathering I decided to explore two of our values a bit more deeply:

These two values could be interpreted in many different ways, but each of our values comes with a byline that helps to give a bit more clarity into how everyone at Canva can apply them to their lives. “Be a force for good” means:

“Make the world a better place through positive actions, inclusion and diversity.”

And “be a good human” means:

“Value good communication. Be open, honest and constructive with yourself, with your team, with the company, and with the world.”

To help explore what each of those values means in my talk, I decided to break the sentences down into their constituent parts:

Make the world a better place

We’re not doing this for the money. We actually want the world to be a better place because Canva exists. Whether that’s helping people find a job with a shiny new résumé, helping them set up their business and tell the world about it, or helping a non-profit find the resources they need to fulfil their mission; we think these are powerful ways that Canva that can help make the world a better place. We’re always looking for ways to make the world even better, at even bigger scales, and we empower everyone here to think about that too.

Positive actions

Sometimes we have to say “no”, but most of the time we get things done by saying “yes”. Having a bias towards taking positive action sometimes requires a real mental shift, but I think it’s a hugely beneficial one. My own personality battles with this sometimes – jumping to think about the downsides or flaws in an idea or situation – but I’ve found that when we take conscious steps towards positive action it always turns out better, and helps others around us come together and make something great.

Inclusion and diversity

Now, there’s many political facets to inclusion and diversity, but to us at Canva it’s about helping the entire world – not just a privileged few – and it’s about giving opportunities to those who wouldn’t otherwise have a chance to access them. This applies not only to what we’re trying to do in the world, but also what we’re trying to do internally at Canva. We want our teams to reflect a diversity of thought, to be able to think about the rich and wonderful world that we are trying to serve, and to give people an opportunity to excel when they wouldn’t otherwise get the chance to do so.

Good communication

Being a good human is all about having healthy and respectful relationships with the people around us, and that starts with good communication. We have quite a diverse range of people at Canva. Looking around our floors I can spot people from at least 30 different countries and six different continents, a mix of genders, as well as different experiences and different ways of thinking. The beauty of that diversity is that we all have different communication styles and cultural backgrounds, and that diversity needs to be recognised when we’re communicating with our teammates. Good communication does not leave people confused, offended, or angry. It leaves them with clarity, understanding, and security.

Open, honest and constructive

Trust is an important thing at Canva. We want everyone to trust the people around them and in turn be trusted by those people. Being open and honest with our communication and feedback is a good start towards building that trust, but remember to also make it constructive. Truth is a necessary foundation, but it needs to be communicated in a way that helps the recipient and builds up the trust and security that we are aiming for.

Yourself, team, company, the world

We want our staff to think about what it means to be honest and constructive at each of these levels, and understand how it affects their interactions with people that lie within each circle. What does being honest with ourselves mean? How can we be most constructive with our team? We always want to be open with our customers and the people whose lives we affect around the world.

You might think that these two values are obvious enough to be at the heart of every great company, but we think that they are important enough to emphasise to every person at Canva. That’s what feeds into making great teams, and those are what makes a great company 😀

Cameron Adams Cameron Adams is a co-founder and Chief Product Officer at Canva, where he leads the design & product teams and focuses on future product directions & innovative experiences. Read a bit more about him ›