At the heart of every organization is the passion of its employees: their dreams, their aspirations and ultimately their unique perspectives on the landscape and challenges that the company faces every day. The organization itself is a breathing, ever-changing environment that requires both structure and fluidity to adapt and succeed.

Over the last six years at Mercedes-Benz R&D, I’ve been working in one particular area of adaption exclusively: Digital Transformation and Corporate Innovation. Fancy buzzwords, but what do they really mean? Over the last 30 years, the rulebook for hierarchical structures, corporate communication channels and the pathway for creation has been completely rewritten. Companies are operating in an entirely new arena within the time span of only one generation. Teams are smaller, faster, more global, and most importantly, more empowered.

Culture is Always Hungry. If You Feed it, it will Grow.

One thing that really fires up innovation is a strong culture. As companies become flatter, as they begin to attempt to move faster so they can adapt to transformational challenges, they will also have to undergo a culture change.

Diverse teams are proven to bring a more complete range of ideas leading to a stronger flow of innovation; however, these teams filled with talent from many fields must also break down silos and build stronger connections. They need to collaborate, experiment and be empowered to change their organization.

This year, I had the pleasure of partnering up with adidas to experience firsthand what this looks and feels like. The project was a completely new hackathon experience and their drive and passion to bring something completely new and impactful was exhilarating.

Participants of a Hackathon stand together and discuss their project wearing adidas Hackathon branded t-shirt, digital, ideas, innovation, technology, hackathon, coding, group, teamwork, project, GamePlan A
Creative ways of working bring the most creative solutions.

Over the course of a few months, teams across digital pieced together a roadmap for a hackathon series with four stops across Europe, ultimately leading to a championship final at the adidas headquarters in Herzogenaurach, Germany. In all of my hackathon experiences, I have never seen a company embark on such an endeavor, and in its own words, truly “Call on all creators.”

Let the Games Begin

I had the great opportunity to moderate the second hackathon in Sofia, Bulgaria and then attend and speak at the championship event. It was unlike any hackathon experience I’ve ever seen. Yes, there was pizza and yes, there was also Red Bull. As any participant will tell you: these are the hallmarks of a good start, and one might even question if it’s truly a hackathon without them!

But there was something more. There was a unique team energy. The participation was diverse: IT, data scientists, HR Talent teams, future strategy, subject matter experts – all together listening, assisting and coaching. Everyone rolled up their sleeves and got involved.

Emboldened by the support, I saw a fire ignite within the teams that I haven’t seen at previous hackathons I’ve been part of in the Silicon Valley. This wasn’t just about getting the opportunity to meet adidas and to walk away with some prizes – they were there to create the best concept and win. Period.

Participants of a Hackathon stand together and discuss their project, digital, ideas, innovation, technology, computers, hackathon, coding, group, teamwork, project, adidas, GamePlan A
The whole team is up for the challenge.

Persistence Brings Possibility

In Sofia, teams bunkered into rooms, or built islands with their desks and dove all in. For the next 24 hours, they were relentless in their efforts, pushing one build of code after the next, crashing one version after another until the stern, competitive faces turned into smiles and laughter. Their creations were working. Mostly.

The enthusiasm and drive continued as team after team pitched their product. The impossible became possible and with it, a full immersion into the culture of adidas in only a 24-hour period. I remember vividly one team in particular. They couldn’t finish coding a feature: a simple screen in their app. Did they hang their heads or call it quits and walk out? No. They went analog. They crafted their pitch, combining their digital creation, augmented reality markers, and now a physical poster board of one part of their screen. As they presented to the crowd, the room was in tears of laughter. It was at that moment that the team demonstrated their will to win.

Fast forward to the championship day.

The air was thick with intensity as the teams met each other for the first time, all of which were competing for the chance to be crowned adidas-Hack 2018 champions. The air carried the same enthusiastic energy as in Sofia and the same will to win, but this time the stage was bigger, and the stakes were higher.

It was apparent as team after team took the stage that they were all winners, but only one team would take home the trophy, bringing to an end the first ever event of this scale to be held by adidas.

Reflections after the event

It’s been over a month since the finale, and I still find myself reflecting. During these events, I experienced many of the things one would associate with such an event, however at adidas there was clearly something that stood out: Culture.

The love of the brand, the love of sport, and the love of the community was extremely prevalent throughout. Given the chance to run – no – the chance to sprint, this passion exposed itself in the most contagious form: excitement to be solving the real problems.

This is Digital Transformation. This enables company innovation.

Nurturing the Next, not the Perfect

One where teams are not bound by existing norms. Not all of their methods are perfect, or fluid for that matter, and there will be mistakes, but through competition they were forced to overcome and adapt. All that is trivial falls to the wayside. Their focus is purely on the finish line.

Participants of a Hackathon stand together for group picture cheering in´the camera, digital, ideas, innovation, technology, hackathon, coding, group, team work, project, adidas, GamePlan A
Enjoy the journey and celebrate success.

I’m beyond glad to have seen adidas cultivate that very same environment from within. To utilize this time as an opportunity to enable change in the way people work. Kicking off the adidas Hackathon Series is helping them to push the pace of innovation and all within a company whose ambition to create comes from a really cool alchemy: the love of the brand, the love of the community and the love of sport.


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