Work with people who get it. If you look at Nike and thought “how did you get a culture like that?” Well, Nike’s founder was never satisfied as a coach, he was always looking for a way to improve his athlete. He even learnt to make shoes. This was how he met Phil Knight. It was him who said “let’s try something together.” He’s out there making track to fit the “Oregon Sunshine” condition (which really means “rain.”)He literally went to his backyard, mixing various substances that will make the best track.
A lot of people credit him for igniting the “jogging” movement that swept all across the US. He took his wife’s waffle iron and poured rubber over it to create the first “waffle trainer.” He was also obsessed with weight. He was interested in stripping away whatever is unnecessary in a shoes.
In large companies, you realize that you want to improve the efficiency of process from cradle to cradle. So all things that you improve was supposed to be tuned for this perfectly running machine.
Well, that’s not very good for innovation.
It’s the equivalent of growing plants in a field vs. greenhouse. One is arranged so tightly that it impaired innovation. One is a house of experimentation and non-linear openness.
The Innovation Kitchen is very couterproductive to business principles. The charter of the kitchen is quite interesting. In the industry, there’s a lot of remixing of popular culture. This is terrific, but you can only do it for so long.
This is not what we’re interested in the kitchen.
Instead, we’re interested in making the new classic. You think you’re going to run out of ideas, but you never do. When the SR-71 Blackbird airplane was designed, the designer had no interest in its form. Instead, by designing for function, the form then took shape. The other designer is Charles Eames. What he did was playing with new forms and opportunities for the design of chairs. He didn’t invented plywood, but he used it in a new way.
The project we were taking on was to take a new model for footwork construction: design efficiency. I can tell you for a fact that a bridge built with stone can only handle so much—until steel comes along in the 1950’s and you’re able to do spans and scales that you can never do before.
At Nike, we’ve always used a layered approach in constructing shoes: where you would cut materials out, and then when you need more strength you would stuff and patch it. There’s a fundamental problem with this, because when you’re trying to make something lighter, you need to take materials off. But the shoes are built in layers—so strength and stability went away with the weight! We felt that gold shoes that we made was the limit of the function of this old approach. We feel that this is the end of the line without rethinking the process.
The idea for this new construction model was initially very expensive to construct. But years later, we went to our material room, and in the room was an embroidery machine. This machine was designed mostly for decoration, but we realized that it can also print fiber. It doesn’t print very well, though, so we had to hack and then custom-made it. The idea of this new construction model was, really, akin to putting a muscle to your feet. This changes everything for us. Instead of thinking of a shoes that you have to design in a program prior to production, this model, by the manner in which it’s constructed, allows you to tune it like an instrument.
- Ultra-lightweight sacrifices strength
- Stability compromises mobility
- Exceptional control sacrifices comfort
This new construction model gets both.
To test this model, we talked to five Olympic athletes and let them try it out—not expecting anything. Well, the next day, the camera was rolling and we saw these five guys running with these prototypes on the field! Thankfully, one of them won the first place.