Reebok VP Paul Litchfield on the inherent risks of innovation

When you have a track record like Paul Litchfield’s, you can take a few risks.

Since 1985, Litchfield has been one of Reebok’s internal innovation all-stars. As Head of Reebok Advanced Concepts, he supervised the development of the hit Reebok Pump sneaker in the 1980s, the spring-like Energy Return System, Zig, and DMX Moving Air cushioning technology. He has over 160 patents granted or pending. Last year, Litchfield team worked with the electronics startup MC10 to launch the Checklight cap, which can warn participants in contact sports like football about dangerous impacts.

Litchfield joined Innovation Leader editor Scott Kirsner onstage at the Design Management Institute’s Design Leadership Conference in Boston. He spoke frankly about how he and his team work within the organization; the challenges of making innovation happen within a traditional annual planning cycle; and about why innovators simply cannot avoid failure: “Our job is actually to fail,” Litchfield says. “It’s almost like learning how to ride a bike: if you’re not falling down, you’re not going to learn.” Reebok, based in Canton, Mass., is part of $19 billion Adidas AG, headquartered in Germany.

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