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Career Development at adidas

Though I have a fulfilling job doing work that I enjoy, last year I realized I wasn’t happy. The problem was that I hadn’t learned anything new for a few months. I missed the state of unease that occurs when we are coming to grips with information beyond our working knowledge. The reason I wasn’t learning was simple: I lacked time. But I knew that my job satisfaction depended on making a change.

I asked myself, “If you had five hours per week, what would you want to learn?”  

“I’ve always been interested in data and machine learning,” I replied. “Beyond the buzzword of AI, activating some hidden programming skills again, so Python it is.”

Man sits on a sofa at adidas HQ looking at his work phone.
The upskilling options may seem endless, but our interests are a good place to start.

I enrolled in a masterclass in this area and began honing my technical knowledge. After some weeks, I realized how time-consuming it would be to gain deep expertise in this specialized area. It became clear that the scope of the course I was taking was too focused for me, and I didn’t have an opportunity to apply this expertise in my day-to-day job. What I really wanted to learn was how machine learning and data can provide value in the context of a large company.

Luckily, a friend told me about another course that would potentially be a better fit. The Technology Leadership Program in UC Berkeley’s Executive Education Program is designed for functional heads and business leaders to drive tech innovation and strategy across organizations. This program has a clear focus on understanding big data and the opportunities it presents in complex business contexts.

Like me, they are interested in remaining skilled, and the skills needed change rapidly. In technology, it sometimes seems that by the time we recognize the latest trends, they are out of date. With this in mind, I’ve analyzed key parts of my personal learning story to tease out takeaways to help you improve your job satisfaction, too.

1. Four elements of happiness can guide job satisfaction

The Japanese model, Ikigai, proposes four elements that give a person a sense of purpose or “happiness”: what you’re good at, what you love, what the world needs, and what you can get paid for. If you are able to combine several of these at work, your chances of job satisfaction increase. If you can combine all four, you’re very lucky. I regularly hold these elements up to my situation to assess how promising an option is. In the case of the Technology Leadership Program, it aligned very well with the Ikigai elements.

Group of employees hold a casual meeting at a standing desk in a meeting room.
Happiness is a key factor in identifying what to learn.

The program covers technology and innovation, which I love. It includes machine learning and data, the topic I wanted to upskill myself in to begin with – and in a scope that matches my interests: as applied in the broad spectrum of a company. The world needs people with expertise in managing advanced technological ecosystems that integrate the most contemporary innovations. And I am confident that my work will benefit from these capabilities. This means that the skills gained in the program are relevant to my job and I will most likely get paid for them.

2. Learning is essential work

I often encounter a myth or assumption that learning is not work and that it needs to be completed in our free time. I would counter by saying that we can’t expect people to lock themselves in a room for hours after work when they have family and personal lives.

Man sits at his desk working on his desktop with the adidas slogan Impossible Is Nothing in the background.
Blocking time for learning is a priority for me and my team.

In the case of my Technology Leadership Program, I need to spend 5-7 hours per week on it. It’s not the kind of learning I can do for 10 minutes at a time. Instead, I need to set aside time for it, maybe in one-hour blocks when I can focus without distractions. Since I know that learning is a priority at adidas, I find ways to block the time needed for it.

3. It’s okay to learn in intervals

Some people talk about being a continuous learner, which I see as a positive state of mind. However, that does not mean you need to learn every day. Naturally, we will have varying demands and flexibility at work depending on projects and their rhythms. The way learning is sometimes talked about is enough to make a person feel guilty for sitting on the couch and eating some chocolate occasionally. I’m here to promote balance 

I don’t think it’s productive to incessantly compare ourselves to others, nor is it sustainable to pressure ourselves into learning at breakneck speeds.

Team memebers stand around talking casually.
Team members can support and stimulate each other’s growth.

As you saw in my story, I wasn’t learning for some time when I realized I needed some stimulation to keep my brain’s gray matter fresh. It isn’t necessary or feasible for me to engage in continuous intense learning. The mind needs rest, just as the body does. At the same time, when this sort of learning is needed – for my job satisfaction or to meet the organization’s needs – I’m committed to finding a way to make it happen.

4. You don’t have to finish everything you start

When we value trying new things and taking risks, we must accommodate the possibility that some endeavors should not be completed. For instance, if you study something and find you don’t like it, there is no point in sinking more costs (time) into something you know you don’t want to do going forward.

I didn’t complete the Python masterclass. I had come to the realization that it was not the best use of my time. Without the opportunity to apply what I learned on an ongoing basis I would soon have forgotten what took me so long to learn. Unlike a machine, the human brain forgets, which is a beautiful practice as it allows you to make use of limited capacities most efficiently. Stopping the course early on helped me find the right learning choice to improve my job satisfaction.

5. Your strengths are made to build on

Sometimes I see a misconception that the best way to approach development is to learn something completely new. When we take on something we don’t know anything about, the payoff can take some time. In the beginning, we are often frustratingly bad at things. There is nothing wrong with looking at an existing skill or interest and finding ways to deepen or broaden it.

Man speaks to his colleague during a coffee break.
Building on skills we already have can provide direction for development goals.

For this reason, when creating development plans, I find it useful to pose a question that encourages my team to build on current capabilities. “What are three improvements you’d like to have completed by the end of the quarter?”

While I do have the ability to become skilled at using new technologies, my greater strengths lie in applying them in large systems. Therefore, I chose to focus on technology management instead of technology mastery.

6. The door is yours to open

I enjoy my role of helping people find ways to maximize their job satisfaction. Ideally, this involves coaching colleagues in identifying areas with market relevance that allow them to grow with the company. In other words, I like to help people find their way to the door of opportunity and even unlock it. Opening the door is entirely up to you.

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4 COMMENTS

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by Ken 24.02.2022
Great article and love the advice of the 4 elements of happiness and "You don't have to complete what you started"! Thanks for sharing!
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by Holly Ann Horeis 28.02.2022
Adidas has been my day 1, literally! My family has represented the three life stripe style since 1964. All day every day. My childhood photos with my siblings were Adidas hats, shirts, socks, and shorts. Framed on the wall in my parents' to this day. I've been trying to catch the attention of my favorite brand for years now to be involved in the Adidas family and creative innovations worldwide. I hope this comment can capture someone's consideration for a response. I've never been so eager to give my all for a chance to publicly support my chosen brand of all time with their reinforcement to success.
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by Erik 10.03.2022
Very good and inspiring article. Thx for sharing, Markus.
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by Deepa Sreenivasan 15.03.2022
Absolutely inspiring
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