With the largest population in the world, China is a hub for innovation and a world leader for the ‘game-changer’ mindset. With that in mind, what better place than Shanghai (the location of adidas’ China headquarters), to bring together participants from the company’s Talent Carousel program for our second boot camp.

What is the Talent Carousel (TC)? Each year, adidas selects 20 people globally to embark on a 24-month ‘on the job’ development program, challenging us to take on a new function in a new country. Throughout the two years we participate not only in three boot camps in one of adidas’ global key cities, but also in multiple upskilling trainings remotely.

A group of people listening to a presentation, adidas, talent program, Shanghai, leadership, boxing, GamePlan A

I was eager to return to Shanghai which, with a population of 23 million, is a prime example of the VUCA world.

With international influences seen in Xintiandi and on the Bund to the deep-rooted Chinese traditions in every corner and every park, the city is filled with cultural juxtapositions and never-ending inspiration – not to mention amazing dumplings! I was ready for my boot camp adventure.

Fit to fight and set to disrupt

The next exercise, preparing us for the work ahead, was about finding the right problem, not just a solution.

One of my favorite tools was ‘The Value Proposition Canvas’, which maps out the key questions you should ask when starting a new project:

  • What does your customer need?
  • What are the pain points they have due to this need?
  • What benefits would fixing/addressing this need bring?
  • How can your concept alleviate your customer’s pain?
  • Does your concept resolve the real issue or just the symptom?
Two posters standing on easels at a bootcamp. adidas, talent program, disruption, coaching, leadership, Shanghai

What became the overarching idea of the warmup – and the entire boot camp – was the mindset of ‘disrupt or be disrupted’. Although I’m familiar with the concept, it became more tangible through the final part of our team building: a visit to the Aboro Academy where we met boxing legend Michele Aboro.

The undefeated world champion spoke to us about how she’s been constantly challenging the status quo to come out on top in a man’s world. Her story was both humbling and motivating. A boxing class with Michele took our energy levels to new heights and got us ready for the ultimate boot camp challenge.

Ready for the road ahead

With the warmup complete, our challenge was laid before us: What can 20 experts create in 10 months that will bring a radical new concept to sustainability? The challenge became even more appealing as we were told that if successful, the adidas executive board will back up and roll out our recommendation.

I felt empowered to tackle a topic that on an individual level can feel overwhelming. How can I make an impact? But there I was, along with the rest of my TC family, with the chance to create change through sport and sustainability – an opportunity one can only dream of.

People sitting in a circle in a meeting room at adidas. Talent program, leadership, coaching, Shanghai, Sustainability, ideas, GamePlan A

An important part of being successful in a project like this is having the right mindset from the start. I have found the best source of inspiration were the learnings from Michele Aboro.

So, with that in mind I am ready to disrupt and change the sustainability game.

We’re only starting our sustainability adventure, working towards a radical idea that could disrupt the game. A million questions are waiting to be answered. Which sustainability problem will we investigate and solve? What could be our end product or process? What do we need to do to get there? How can I add the most value?

My question to you is: given the opportunity to create lasting change through sport, what would you do? Tell me in the comments below.


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by Toby Costar 24.04.2018
I would take on the challenge of mental health. I believe that sport has the power to help people overcome a number of mental health issues. The biggest problem in my opinion is overcoming the stigma of asking for help. Sport has a unique ability to create close connections between people, something that could help with the stigma of asking for help.
by Tony Reed 24.04.2018
Shanghai Bootcamp and particularly the time spent at the Aboro Academy was truly an great bonding experience for Talent Carousel Gen 2. I would love to see more team based workouts/sport brought into the adidas internal curriculum for team-building and brainstorming exercises. Things like boxing, rowing, and just general bootcamp workouts can go a long way to extending our collaborative spaces internally, bring about new ideas, test out product and overall create new bonds within corporate teams.