Tag Archives: Nike

The power of making in helping us to think differently

Nike have a new initiative – ‘Nike Makers’.  Nike never beat about the bush.  Or think small. “We’re here to unveil a new age of design. One that is about making better things and making things better.”

The starting point is materials. They are releasing the API for the Nike Sustainable Materials Index so that makers of code can create apps which will let makers of things design using more sustainable materials.

The video to introduce the initiative is classic Nike too. I quote some excerpts here, but it is 1 minute 32 seconds that goes by very quickly, so take a look.

“Make no mistake.

We hate sustainability.

We hate that people don’t even want to hear the word anymore.

We hate that it has become a management decision that is passed down like a pair of second-hand shoes.

We’re over it.

We’re here to unveil a new age of design.

It’s about making better things and making things better.

….

One that gives the power back to makers of things, not makers of decisions.”

And so it continues. The words resonate with me in so ways. I love the line: “We hate that it (sustainability) has become a management decision that is passed down like a pair of second-hand shoes”. It sums up how sustainability is managed in many companies, and how it is received by the people that it is passed down to, rather than it being something that is driven by the people who ‘make things’, those people who get their hands dirty everyday.

The emphasis on the makers of things led me to think back to an exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum last year – “The Power of Making”. The exhibition was a powerful celebration of the skill of craftspeople. The essays in the catalogue confirm the wisdom of Nike’s approach – and reinforces the idea that power is truly in the hands of makers. I say hands deliberately, as one of the re-occurring themes in the essays is about how by making things, you open yourself up to think differently. As Martina Margetts says, “Making is…a process whereby mind, body and imagination are integrated in the practice of thought through action”.

Dan Lepard, a baker, said the same thing at a talk that I went to: that using your hands open up different parts of the brain. This is so true. And this is why, when I run workshops, I find that even if participants have a simple activity to do, such as cutting and sticking pictures from a magazine to make a collage, it opens up minds to think in a different way than that if they had just been asked to write words on a flipchart.

We all need to find ways of bringing more making, and less thinking, into our work lives – and, paradoxically, we’ll find that it opens up the new ways of thinking that we are searching for – in order to make things better.

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The law of 20%

I believe strongly that sustainability should be owned by all employees in an organisation. So why I am advocating targeting 20% of your employees? Because I believe that is the most effective way to get all employees in the organisation on board.

How does this work? It goes back to Malcolm Gladwell and The Tipping Point :


‘once 20% of the population begin moving in the same direction, they act as a tipping point for more change in that direction’.

Gladwell also writes about the personalities – the connectors, salesmen and maven – who play a crucial role in any change process. (‘Maven’ are the intense gatherers of information and impressions who are the first to pick up on new trends).

In his book, The Necessary Revolution, Peter Senge tells the story of how Darcy Winslow at Nike used this principle to effect change. She realized that effectively engaging even 20% of 25,000 employees at a deep level was a hard task. So she identified designers as the ‘mavens’ who were at the heart of innovation in Nike’s business and could lead change – reaching 20% of 300 designers was a better place to start.

The techniques that she then used to engage included a two-day meeting of a cross-section of people in Nike, including designers, to begin the dialogue within the organisation. It also involved shifting the conversation from problems to possibilities. For example, she would start a dialogue with designers, explaining about the issue of waste and toxicity, and then ask the question, ‘What is most important to you about design and new products at Nike? And how, if we were at our best, would you see us facing these challenges?’ She was drawing on Nike values and the spirit of innovation to inspire designers. Once the dialogue had been opened, this could be followed up by asking questions which would stimulate the creativity of designers, such as ‘How do we design a completely recyclable shoe?’

As EE Cummings wrote – ‘Always the beautiful answer who asks a more beautiful question’, or as Jim Collins said in ‘Good to Great’ – ‘Lead with questions, not answers’. Today one of Nike’s three official management goals is ‘to deliver sustainable products and innovations’.

So, who would be the 20% that you would target in your organisation? It may be that is a particular department. Or it may be the people who are already leading change and taking action within their own areas and need help and encouragement to do more. And what questions would you be asking of them, to stimulate creativity and inspire them?