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How Nike’s Innovation Kitchen Made It Fast Company’s Most Innovative Company in 2013

April 1, 2013

            In March, Fast Company magazine announced “2013’s 50 Most Innovative Companies”.  Number one on this list wasn’t one of the hot new start-ups on the block like Pinterest or Square, it was Nike. Started as a humble sneaker company over forty years ago, Nike has established itself as a $24 billion dollar global brand. It’s tag line: “Inspiration and Innovation for Every Athlete in the World.”

This year Nike launched not one, but two new products that many are calling revolutionary. The first product, the FuelBand, is an electronic bracelet that measures your daily movements. The second is the Flyknit Racer – feather light, environmentally friendly shoes that Nike says will “turn the shoe industry on its head”.

To launch one new groundbreaking product in a year is a feat; two is extraordinary. But Nike is a highly successful growth company because it lives and breathes what every company must learn to survive: that innovation must be an integral part of your business operations and corporate culture.

So how do they do it?

According to Amy Martin, author of Renegades Write the Rules, the secret sauce is in Nike’s Innovation Kitchen.  Here are a few of the ingredients:

  • Swoosh scientists are obsessed with “What if…?” questions.
  • Nike has an innovation process never ends, and there is no finish line.
  • Nike athletes and consumers are a part of the process via clever social media channels.  Check out Nike+ Basketball in this video.

Nike designer Michael Shea, one of Nike’s 125 Kitchen-mates says, “You’re paid to question things.”  He describes the essential qualities of new Innovation Kitchen hires: has initiative, is a self-starter, can take direction, can take it to another plane, and is socially open and fun.


Innovation is Not a Fire Drill

Every growth company needs an innovation process.  It’s the bridge between today’s core business and the new business that will drive future growth, as I show in my S-Curve diagram.

Screen Shot 2013-02-16 at 1.29.06 PM

Like many successful growth companies, Nike has built their innovation process into the rhythm of their operations – balancing investments in new business development with the demands of their core business. It remains to be seen whether some of the much younger companies on Fast Company’s 50 Most Innovative will have the staying power of Nike. The sooner they understand that innovation is not a fire drill but an inherent part of their overall business, the more likely they will be on a path to long term growth and success.

Follow Dave on Twitter: @WDavidPower

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