Recently I had the chance to accompany Chris Zagel from the IT Innovation Team during his visit to Georg Simon Ohm University in Nuremberg where he gave a lecture to master students on the course of Marketing, Innovation and Technology Management. Chris presented on the topic of ’IT Innovation at the adidas Group’ and provided some insights into new technological ideas and developments the team is currently working on.
The two-hour lecture was really interesting for me for two main reasons: First of all, I joined the adidas Group just recently after leaving university and it was cool to see how students – just as I was not very long ago – react when they get an insight into the adidas world. The second reason is that I am very keen on getting insights into as many aspects of the company as possible. The adidas Group believes that innovation is essential to sustainable leadership in our industry. Therefore I particularly appreciated the offer to join Chris’ lecture in order to learn more about the IT aspect of innovation at adidas. Let me share a couple of my most important findings.
What is an innovation?
First things first: not everything new is automatically considered an innovation. The most important criteria an idea needs to pass are that it should be
- …and it should contain a learning and passion.
Before the innovation is born and can then be turned into a project, various steps need to be taken. Often, a physical prototype is presented to the business with the objective to ‘sell’ the idea on a representative base. Chris highlighted in his lecture really clearly what distinguishes projects from innovations: “When you are working on an innovation you are still allowed to try yourself out and make mistakes. You are allowed to invest in innovations and to fail if an idea turns out to be non-convertible. With a project, this is unthinkable, every euro counts”. In a nutshell, the IT innovation team embraces (early) failure and uses it as a lesson learned.
How does the adidas IT Innovation team operate?
IT Innovation closely cooperates with all brands and functions of the adidas Group to provide them with ideas and technologies for innovations in their businesses. The team is supported by an external ‘workbench’ which includes (currently) 12 students working on 12 different projects as well as doing internships or writing their final papers within various fields of the adidas Group – another reason why the students seemed to hang on Chris’ lips. In addition, IT Innovation is interlinked with IT specialists in various markets around the world, who report about IT developments and innovations within their countries and regions.
Focus on the consumer
Chris pointed out that one thing is particularly crucial for the adidas IT Innovation team when thinking about new ideas: “Today, consumer-thinking needs to be fully integrated in the development process in order to come up with innovations that are considered as real improvements and ultimately accepted by consumers.” However, IT Innovation is not only about creating new ways to reach out to the consumer. It’s also about developing new ways of working and about finding solutions for the various businesses’ challenges and their ‘impossibles’. In this case, the colleagues are the ‘consumers’. The students were excited to hear how this theory can be transferred to professional practice.
Giving practical examples to underline the theory
Therefore, Chris presented some practical examples and innovative highlights to his audience such as the social mirror which is now a key element of all NEO stores. After the lecture, I had the chance to speak to this audience and interview some of the students about their opinion about adidas and this field of business. “It was fantastic to see many practical implementations,” the two students Linda Ruf and Sonja König reported after the lecture. “Especially as a student, you normally only get information on a theoretical basis.”
A traditional but also innovative company
At the end of the presentation, Chris underlined that the adidas Group IT Innovation team always welcomes student projects and applications. His simple and straightforward presentation was perceived as very positive inspiring and informative by the approximately 50 attendees. Some students even changed their view on the adidas Group: “For me, adidas has so far been more a traditional brand,” Sonja reflected. And Linda told me: “Sure, we knew about all the innovations they do in relation to products. However, it is all new to me that the company is also very active and productive when it comes to IT innovations.” Both students agreed that this lecture has totally changed their opinion of the adidas Group. For me, it was great to see how Chris and his presentation made this happen.