The term innovation is usually associated with researchers, designers and techies.  When it comes to innovation, you would be hard pressed to find someone as committed to innovation as Nike CEO, Mark Parker. Parker who only thinks in sneakers, is laser focused on serving athletes and providing them with the best footwear, athletic wear and anything else to achieve optimal performance.  The Wall Street Journal‘s 2015 Brand Innovator sits down to discuss his time at Nike and how he keeps the brand ahead of the competition. View the full article at WSJ.

Parker says it’s important to allow himself the space to be a “wacky creative, to go off and not have any regard for commercial sensibility. And I think that’s OK sometimes. You have to untie those limitations and let it fly and then see where it goes.” He recognizes that his designers, technologists and engineers also need that space. “You don’t want to be having a conversation or an idea tethered to a brief that is all about volume and commercials…. [I]f there is something truly out there and game changing and it’s going to disrupt much of our current formula or approach, people can become quite uncomfortable, and that’s a trap. One of my biggest sources of angst is having people so comfortable with a formula that works that they are not challenging themselves or their ideas.”

Parker himself loves seeing rough ideas, prototypes and sketches and is able to see past a rendering or poorly fabricated prototype to the underlying virtues of a new idea. He frequently visits the Nike R&D center (known as Innovation Kitchen and Nike Sport Research Lab)—he can see the building from his office—and will sit in on design charettes with junior designers where they will work for an hour or two on sketches incorporating a new technology or manufacturing process. “Mark has a great eye for product,” says Nike chief operating officer Eric Sprunk, who gives as an example the first prototypes for Flyknit, a manufacturing process that created the woven-fabric upper that now makes up many of Nike’s sneakers. According to Sprunk, the initial mock-ups were literally socks with foam pads glued to them. “They were incredibly crude,” says Parker. “Most people would just pass them by.” He’d made an unsuccessful attempt in 2000, with the Nike Presto, intended to be “a T-shirt for your feet.” But advances in weaving technology by this time had convinced Parker that a woven-mesh upper was now possible.