A year ago, we started down our metaphorical yellow brick road at adidas by first opening up and listening carefully to ideas from across our business. Then, we introduced an online training community designed to create a foundation for a culture of innovation by educating and empowering our people with new business acumen.

team working together hacking your way to innovation
Organizational hierarchies and job titles are counterproductive during creative processes. Put them away to create the right conditions for your participants. ©Willie B. Thomas/Getty Images

The digital platform thrived on its elements of meritocracy, especially its voluntary basis for participation, exclusion of formal job titles, and the fashion in which it put ideas and collaboration above organizational hierarchies.
From the campaign emerged a groundswell of engagement and enthusiasm as 3,000-plus employees savored the opportunity to speak their voice in a connected community, exercise their creativity and self-confidence, and gain a renewed sense of belonging to a culture of learning and listening. But that was only the beginning.

Here are the steps we’ve taken on our innovation journey, and a deeper look at the logic behind our approach.

1. Create a pro-innovation environment

To maximize upgrading the innovation skills of our people, we had to start by creating and fostering an environment where innovation happens because of the system – not in spite of it. At adidas, that meant starting to embed innovation DNA in the organizational systems and processes that govern our everyday work and operations.

Enter the Innovation Hackathon, a campaign we kicked off in May designed to help our organization create a socially constructed and shared view of the built-in barriers to innovation and, in response, generate a robust portfolio of “hacks” and real-world experiments to solve them.

It’s not a program that could be “rolled out.” If it had any chance of success, it needed to be a collective and iterative approach. A coach can install a new playbook, sure, but if the team’s players don’t understand and buy into the system, the plan risks breaking down.

2. Roll up your sleeves and ideate

The 12-week Hackathon featured a mix of video lectures, activities, and supporting content centered on pro-innovation themes like experimentation, slack, and entrepreneurship. The initiative culminated in November 2016 with an intensive two-day event in Los Angeles we called the Hack Lab.

women discussing and working together hacking your way to innovation
Innovation needs faces. Bring together different people, craft an agenda and provide them with input, tools and space for creativity.

Designed to take a subset of the final “hacks” produced during the Innovation Hackathon and stretch them, deepen them, and develop them into experiments for trial across North America, the Hack Lab brought together about 75 cross-functional employees from the region in a 48-hour, roll-your-sleeves-up working session.

Throughout the working sessions, they set aside their emotional ownership in the creative aspects of each idea and welcomed open, honest, and constructive feedback from colleagues, senior executives, and other stakeholders in the spirit of betterment.

3. Add innovation to every job description

So, what’s next? Yes, we’ll move forward with putting some hacks to the test, which is crucial to advancing our innovation agenda. But perhaps more importantly, we’ll work each and every day with an eye on fostering an organizational culture where new ideas are valued, where everyone has the chance to create, where it’s OK to take risks and fail, where every boss is an innovation mentor, and where new ideas scale fast.

man working with cloud over his head hacking your way to innovation
If you want to win in the future, you need innovators who are confident in taking risks and touching the unknown. Do you see yourself as an innovator? ©Willie B. Thomas/Getty Images

The job of creating the future of our company belongs to everyone, and together we must practice the patience and perseverance to see it through.

A Culture of Innovation Is a Culture of Listening

How to harness the power of innovation.

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