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“Really cool stuff can come from the opportunity to test without constraints,” says Nike‘s head of the Digital Sports Division, Stefan Olander. It can be difficult to quantify or calculate precisely how innovation occurs. It’s not always easy to premeditate the steps leading up to a bold and revolutionary innovation. And perhaps — if Nike is the current benchmark for innovation — the steps leading up to this end goal are more messy and less structured than one might think — at least, in part.
In its latest list, Fast Company has proclaimed Nike the “Most Innovative Company” for 2013. Quite a bold claim. But, the article doesn’t stop there – editor Austin Carr delves into a myriad of reasons for which the Portland-based company deserves the said merit. From the wildly successful FuelBand to its groundbreaking Flyknit footwear technology, Nike seems to have led the charge in 2012 across a plethora of categories from footwear to electronic lifestyle consumer goods. Quite the insightful read, the article digs deep to explore the mindset and viewpoint of many key Nike players that have aided its successes over the past few years. Read a brief introduction excerpt from the article below and head over to Fast Company here to read the full feature.
“This is the raw stuff.”
Stefan Olander, head of Nike’s three-year-old Digital Sport division, is watching a group of his engineers hack an experiment together. They’re using a pair of Nike trainers with embedded sensors. The sensors measure pressure created when the shoes, which happen to be on the feet of a lanky product manager named Brandon Burroughs, strike the ground. The data are collected and then fed wirelessly to an iPhone; the iPhone is plugged into a MacBook; the MacBook’s screen features a program that is busily imitating a 1987 Nintendo video game called Track & Field II. Which brings us to the ostensible goal of all this madness: finding out if new-age sensors and wireless devices work with an ancient video game.
One of my fears is being this big, slow, constipated, bureaucratic company that’s happy with its success.
That’s why Burroughs, who is outfitted head to toe in Nike attire, is crouched in anticipation like a runner before a starter pistol is fired. Suddenly, a whistle screams from the MacBook–it’s the game’s signal that a steeplechase “race” has begun–and Burroughs starts sprinting in place. It isn’t pretty. He’s panting heavily. He’s been at this for a while and is clearly spent. His feet thud against the carpet like a clumsy drumroll as his crude avatar lurches forward on screen. And he’s doing all this in a big, clean, stark corporate lab full of engineers, which isn’t very glamorous. But the experiment is working, sort of: As his avatar nears the first hurdle, Burroughs leaps too late, leading his digital self to trip and tumble into a pixelated pool of water. “Arrrrrrr!” yells Burroughs. “Come on!”