Continuous Innovation for Competitive Advantage: The Adidas Way

“Organizations, by their very nature are designed to promote order and routine. They are inhospitable environments for innovation.” (T. Levitt)

Consistently innovating year after year is easier said than done. GLOBIS Faculty Cristian Vlad goes to Germany to interview Adidas Think Tank Future Trends and Innovation Director Christian Kuhna about the creative and open innovation methods Adidas uses to continually innovate at his company. 

CV: Cristian Vlad
CK: Christian Kuhna

CV: Christian—you never cease to amaze me with your passion for technology and the speed of innovation you bring into all Adidas operations. How do you make magic happen at Adidas?

CK: As director of Think Tank Future Trends and Innovation at Adidas, my job is to look at the big mega trends, like digitalization, IoT, and Artificial Intelligence, but also demographic changes, globalization etc., and to interpret them for what that means for the future of work and the future of organizations. The interesting question is what do we need to change and start doing differently now to have a competitive advantage in the future.

With our new strategy “Creating the New,” we also implemented a people strategy and identified 3 key behaviors we expect from all our employees: creativity, collaboration and confidence.

CV: Meaningful collaboration is so important, isn’t it? How do you bring others into your projects?

CK: “Creating the New” is our strategy focusing on Speed, City and Open Source. I am currently doing a cross-industrial collaboration with Jovoto and 7 other big companies on the topic of the future of work. We "crowd-storm" the challenge openly with around 80,000 people on the internet. The quality of ideas we get back are unbelievable. A collaboration from a business I personally love very much is Parley for the Oceans. We are working with Parley to transform ocean plastic pollution into high performance sportswear, spinning the problem into a solution.

CV: This is all extremely impressive! Creating valuable opportunities for open innovation is what most organizations struggle with. How do you see future organizations dealing with this new scenario?

CK: I personally see the workforce developing into an open eco-system, a more cross-industry and project-oriented network inside and outside of companies, with more freedom to work when and where people want to. My advice is to stay curious and never stop learning. Explore and try out new things, and keep a healthy balance between work and life. This separation will more and more dissolve, which is why it's even more important to be balanced. And last but not least, try to have more fun!

Within the adidas Group HR Strategy Team, Christian built up the Think Tank for Future Trends and Innovation, translating global trends into strategy, organizational design and innovation & culture change projects. As a strategy and communication expert with a focus on innovation, collaboration & knowledge management, he covers the spectrum of internal and external communications, as well as change management. He developed the strategy and concept of the first adidas Group Corporate University, established and led the adidas Group Internal Communication Team.

Previously, at Siemens, Christian defined the external and internal web strategy, built up Issue Management, and worked as a Corporate Spokesperson and member of the Corporate Brand and Web Core-Teams. At Daimler Chrysler he headed web projects, like the set-up of the external and internal web sites for the merger of Daimler-Benz AG and Chrysler Corporation in 1998.

Christian grew up in England, India, Nigeria and Greece. With a Chinese wife, Greek stepmother, Hungarian brother-in-law and Dutch sister-in-law, he is living in his very own United Nations community.

A seasoned veteran of business transformation, organizational development and innovation initiatives, both in terms of product and organizational innovation, Cristian Vlad is the President and CEO of JCE Japan Creative Enterprise, a young and dynamic agency which helps corporate teams transform their business and manage their talent. Cristian has been advising global clients on the role of diversity, human capital, creativity and corporate communications as strategic business drivers to foster innovation and stimulate business growth. He has been recognized by both multinational corporations and emerging enterprises as a thought leader in the areas of business strategy, relationship management, organizational development and architecture, leadership, social media, collaborative environments, people operations, transformation and business model innovation. In parallel, Cristian is an IBM Global Business Services consultant, advising corporate clients on Talent and Organizational Transformation projects.

Prior to his current role, Cristian was project manager at Toyota Motor Corporation, where he led a team of advanced product development professionals within the Corporate Value Creation Department. He also consulted on numerous organizational changes, corporate rebranding and transformation projects globally, in a wide rage of industries. Cristian holds an MA in International Relations from Hirosaki University and a dual BA in Communications and Foreign Language Education from the University of Bucharest.

Cristian currently resides in Fukuoka, Hong Kong and San Francisco.