In his roles across design and brand at Nike, including Chief Marketing Officer, Greg Hoffman was recognized for his transformative leadership. Fundamental to his approach is empathy. “It’s a trait that, if exercised consistently, can allow for gaining a greater understanding of the world and people beyond yourself.
Unlocking the creative power of a diverse team means allowing an individual to bring their lived-in experience and life perspective into the professional arena. This means going beyond creating a diverse team by the numbers. As a manager, you need to see, hear and feel the experience of your team members. A greater understanding and awareness on your part will allow for a more empowered team and a world that will benefit from that.”
Hoffman now runs his own brand advisory group, Modern Arena. From Fortune 500 brands and startups to non-profit organisations, design thinking is integral to long term success. “Fostering a working culture where the left and right brains multiply each other will more likely allow you to create and introduce game-changing innovations into the world. The kind of solutions that not only satisfy the rational needs of your audience but the emotional ones too. When risk-taking is incentivised within a brand culture, and you don’t have to ask permission to use your imagination, you unlock big opportunities that you wouldn’t otherwise see. You move from not only designing products but dreams too.”
The move to a design led culture is, for many brands, one that is difficult to quantify, and by extension the investment into human satisfaction can also be difficult to justify. It’s something Denis Dekovic, global creative director at Adidas, understands well. “It takes a lot of conversation and it’s about highlighting the issue or the challenge, offering some solutions,” he says. “Top leadership meetings can be heavily finance focused – we are here for business, there’s an urgency for change.
But when we talk about numbers, we need to connect it to purpose, because if the focus is only on the numbers, we are not going to inspire our own employees to come back to the office to give their 100%. Adidas’s Creator Farm – a progressive design hub in Brooklyn set up in 2017 – was established not simply to create the shoes of the future, but culture itself. To talk to the design team or Adidas aficionados it’s a success in every sense, but “The challenge is explaining the value of it,” says Dekovik. “If you spend 10 million dollars a year on a centre like this you want to know how much comes back. And it’s hard to quantify everything that design does. We absolutely need to do it but I myself have not figured it out yet. How do we talk to finance people in their language about design?”
Other design challenges brands are facing include how to answer the constant pertinent and wide ranging questions of both customers and employees, and how to best look after and care for them, mentally and physically too.
As WeTransfer’s Damien Bradfield puts it: “Control shifted and flexibility became the word of 2021. Companies are going to have to work very hard to create working conditions and working environments that will attract and retain a talent pool requiring complete flexibility.”
If the past two years haven’t already made it abundantly clear, business underestimates the degree of relationship change we are seeing – and the role of design in responding to it – at its peril.