In-between packing my bags for Vietnam I’m allowing myself breaks to flick through my Instagram account and reflect on what’s gone on behind my feed over the past year. This is becoming familiar; starting all over again after just crossing the finish line.

Soon, my job will be to immerse myself in processes – the processes of manufacturing adidas footwear. Looking back on my own “finish line” snapshots, I realize that learning to appreciate the process has been a process in itself, which began when I first left the United States for my adidas Group traineeship in materials development at the World of Sports (WoS) in Herzogenaurach, Germany. Now, I see similarities between the phases of my German transition and the steps of an engineering process, both offering great learnings for me as I prepare for the starting line of my Vietnam experience.

Phase 1 - Research

Yellow Flowers in Germany
Complications of a new situation.

Beginning life in a new country, I had as many questions as flowers in the beautiful German fields. And I felt as metaphorically lost when running through these fields on lunch breaks. I deal with the complications of a new situation like I do with a footwear engineering challenge: seeking knowledge as my comfort. The more overwhelmed I am, the more I need to research and ask questions.

Phase 2- Break down and define

Snow in Germany
Realistically break down the situation into units.

Those snow flurries among many other things hit me with the hard reality that I was not in sunny Atlanta, Georgia anymore. During this time I defined where I was and what I was lacking: a network, the German language and a massive coat to make me feel like a mobile sleeping bag.

Phase 3 - Experiment

Janine Feirer skiing in the mountains
Initial engagement with the new situation.

Words can’t describe the paralyzing fear that gripped me as I peered over the extreme cliff of an unforgiving mountain, which I was supposed to propel down using tiny uncontrollable toothpicks strapped to my feet. I alternated between tiny moments of joy and large spans of terror, but eventually I did make it down. Experimenting with a new situation is characterized by fear of failing and actually failing (a lot). Yet, the confidence and creativity attained along the way leads to the solution or next phase.

Phase 4 - Optimization of parameters

Janine Feirer playing football
Becoming familiar with an environment’s nuances.

My favorite time: among the mini “failures” I started to piece together the mini successes, learning how to navigate new situations. In footwear engineering, this meant finding the temperatures of extruders and molds to produce the best outsole abrasion or grip properties. Personally, it was attempting to play football and speak broken German with my footwear lab colleagues on the adidas pitch. My Opa, who passed away when I was young, always loved soccer and I could hear him murmuring “Unglaublich” [unbelievable] that sunny day.

Phase 5 - Reinvention

Prosecco in in front of a tennis court
Total integration.

Finally, I felt at home. Just like when footwear engineers develop and bring in a new machine to automate the adhering of midsoles to uppers, I experienced my personal game-changing breakthrough while celebrating my first win on a German tennis team. Same warm fuzzies, same sense of accomplishment, of making it.

It’s a large and crucial percentage of the experience. It’s nothing to fear. We’re simply converting raw materials into value-added components as efficiently as we can.

Love the process.

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Thank you for sharing the experience.
by Rob Fessele 19.03.2017
Nicely put, Janine. And, certainly very true!