Moving Ideas from ‘Fuzzy’ to ‘Fruition’ at Gap

By Scott Kirsner |  December 9, 2013


  • Perman’s mission: Move more ideas from “fuzzy” to “fruition.”
  • At Gap, Perman estimates that innovation is a job for about 300 people. “I don’t believe that innovation is everyone’s job, because not everyone is built that way — anymore than everyone should be an accountant.”
  • For Gap, one of the biggest innovation challenges is moving ideas through the pipeline.
  • “Innovation often emerges from the intersection of operational and creative mindsets.”
  • Perman says one of his favorite books about innovation is “Iconoclast: A Neuroscientist Reveals How to Think Differently,” by Gregory Berns. “An iconoclast is someone who attacks cherished beliefs,” Perman says. “Walt Disney is an example of an iconoclast, having made more than a hundred financial presentations before anyone would fund a theme park based on cartoons.”
  • “While some people think of innovation as risk, we think of innovation as continuous experimenting.”
  • Gap’s Mindspark program is a two- to three-day experience where 30 people get together to devote energy to addressing the company’s most important challenges. About half of it is “filled with external stimuli,” Perman says, like musicians, artists, entertainers, and entrepreneurs. Participants are encouraged to explore “how might we” as a question. For instance, How might we create cultural phenomena? How might we provide a seamless, robust omnichannel experience for consumers? The company has held nine Mindspark events so far that have involved about 250 employees. “We have implemented more than a dozen ideas that are now generating revenue” for Gap, Perman says.
  • In addition to Mindspark, Gap offers more intensive training for some its employees, with a program called Innovation Acrobat. It provides more learning around consumer insights, storytelling, design thinking, and facilitating group creativity. Perman says that Gap hopes to train fifty certified innovation leaders over the next five years.
  • “We honor entrepreneurs internally who sneak innovation under the radar.”
  • “I believe that ideas should be developed in teams, in concurrent waves, with multiple simultaneous prototypes and experiments — rather than a series of linear hand-offs.”
  • Perman says he’s still in the process on designing a “lab” space at Gap for developing prototypes — one that can evolve and be flexible, and not become outdated.
  • “Innovation can be methodical, but we need an openness to the surprises that emerge. They are a product of our imagination.”

Perman also showed this video during his talk, about the development of an “invisible bicycle helmet,” emphasizing how much he likes the phrase “It’s chicken to be a realist.” “What these women were able to imagine was an alternative reality,” he said.