Feb 13, 2014

Boost – innovation in true adidas Running style and where it found inspiration

by Andy BarrStaff

At adidas Running we’re never standing still, both literally and figuratively. Exactly one year ago Energy Boost was born. Boost is by far the most innovative and creative solution to providing the best energy return as well as industry leading cushioning with a single material – a combination, which to that extend was not achievable before.  But Boost also addresses many other consumer pain points making it the sports industry’s most exciting innovation in years. But how do such innovative ideas and technologies actually come into existence? Here are some examples.

Inspiration through collaboration

The discovery of Boost is shrouded in mystery but BASF, the chemical company, first showed the material to some few selected developers, designers and engineers and asked them “do you think you could use this in shoes?”.  We gave it a try and my first response was: “no, you couldn’t”… The original material wasn’t stable or dense enough to withstand the forces exerted during running.

However, what we did know back then was that it had exactly those two properties that could revolutionize a consumer´s running experience – very soft cushioning and endless energy return. The engineers and scientists in our adidas innovation team (ait) and the best minds at BASF worked together for the next 3 years to make the material suitable for running shoes. The result was the Energy Boost which was launched at the end of February 2013 in New York.

As one of the key performance categories at adidas, innovation is of major importance to us and we are constantly thinking about the next new technology, material or product that could support runners even better. Insights and ideas come from literally everywhere and everyone in our cross-functional team, whether it be development, design or product marketing. We often travel together to meet with consumers and retailers to talk to them face to face while we also spend a lot of time working with our athletes to make sure we’re delivering on our founders promise “Only the best for the athlete”.

The athletes’ point of view

Emmanuel Mutai winning the Chicago MarathonEmmanuel Mutai winning the Chicago Marathon

An example for  this came when the team was developing the Energy Boost. Back then I was lucky enough to be at the London Marathon and was asked to introduce it to our participating athletes. That day we had the 4 best male marathoners on the planet sitting round the table: Patrick Makau, Geoffrey Mutai, Emmanuel Mutai, and Wilson Kipsang – all Kenyan and all with a Personal Best time in the 2:03’s.

We believed that Boost would address the needs of these athletes as we had been hearing from them how the marathon has changed and you basically need two different shoesfor varying stages of the race. A plush, cushioned “trainer” to get you to the 32km mark, and another to allow you to put the hammer down and beat the pack through the finishing tape more like a traditional racing flat, low to the ground and lightweight. With Boost there no longer needed to be a trade-off. It’s lightweight, highly cushioned and extremely responsive meaning you can create lower midsole heights but keep the properties that athletes need to get through the first half of the race. We were very excited to find out what they would think.

So I was introducing the shoe and allowing the athletes to try it on which created a lot of intrigue. They couldn’t believe what they were feeling. One of the most interesting questions I’ve heard been asked about Boost came during this meeting. We knew that Boost would work in a racing shoe and the plan was always to put it into the adizero adios in the following season. However, the athletes were thinking beyond the race and asked “could I train for a longer duration, perhaps doing even 180-200 miles a week in training with less muscle fatigue because of the increased cushioning and energy return?”

We don’t have data to prove this but we do now know that Boost can improve running economy vs. the same shoe with EVA and we know that above all else, Boost feels great step after step, mile after mile. These elements together could possibly answer the question that came from the athletes. Feeling great and saving energy sounds good, right!?

Innovative ideas flow from everywhere

The great thing about Boost’s benefits is that they don’t just apply to professional athletes running 2:03 for the marathon but for runners at all levelsBoost is real, relevant innovation and best of all you can feel it working. Its benefits have been proven in the laboratory, with the athlete and most importantly with the consumer. So athletes are always a good source of inspiration. But we, the product developers, are runners, too.

Almost every day we are out on the trails around Herzogenaurach testing and critiquing our latest products. It’s during these runs that a lot of ideas come about, are discussed and more often than not discarded, but sometimes there is a good one!

Lisa Schneider ran with three running pros around HerzogenaurachLisa Schneider ran with three running pros around Herzogenaurach

Being able to test our own products has led us to create completely different feels with Boost for different consumer needs. The Supernova Glide Boost is a great example of this where we knew we had a large following of runners who liked its direct, responsive feel but were looking for a higher level of cushioning and energy return. We didn’t want to create another Energy Boost and have two models doing the same thing.

We wanted to create the best daily training shoe and enhance the elements that the Supernova consumer loves – after all the Supernova family is one of the most important in our performance category in running. The solution to this was proposed by our Supernova developer while we were out on a sunny 10km trot around Herzo airport.

His idea was simple, yet effective: instead of using almost 90% Boost foam with a thin EVA rim making up 10% of the midsole like the Energy Boost we should add slightly more EVA to the Supernova Glide Boost. This would allow us to keep that responsive, direct feel that Supernova is known for but give a different level of cushioning and energy return.

It was four weeks later that we would put this theory to the test, and working closely with our Testing Department we handed out shoes to some of our most trusted runners. The result was exactly what the Supernova consumer was looking for – the perfect balance of responsiveness, cushioning and dynamic roll off. And this month we even won a Runner’s World Editors Choice Award for the Supernova Glide Boost, which is fairly unprecedented for us and is the highest accolade from a Running Publication.

I am not trying to justify our hour long runs at lunch time by saying that they’re “passive/active working time” and that I don’t take them out of my online time, but it is amazing how innovative ideas flow from everybody when you get to step away from your desk and leave the excels and systems behind. What I have learned is that everyone is an innovator and the best ideas can come from anywhere. You don’t have to be a professional athlete to give your opinion. It is those innovative ideas that take us to leadership in innovation. And trust me: we are already working on the next big thing.