Innovation Adrenaline: How Sports Can Fuel Creativity

By Roberto Ramos, Senior Vice President, Strategy & Communications at the Doneger Group
March 10, 2017

We are leading separate lives. Technology and social media have accelerated and deepened the act of self-selection, a preservation process that seeks to make us feel safer, more connected and right about our beliefs by grouping us with like-minded people. As a result, culture and political tribes have proliferated: from sociocultural and political cohorts and the issues they support to aficionados of increasingly specific lifestyle movements (think foodies, hipsters, tech futurists, etc.). But while group identity can be uplifting, left unchecked, its related groupthink behavior can be dangerous, and for problem solving, just plain dumb.

At a time of heightened socio-political tension, sports can force us to connect and play nice with others, fueling better creativity and performance in all aspects of our lives. Here are some ways in which a greater focus on sports can make us more awesome.

Sports as The Great Unifier. Nothing brings our country together like big sports. The Super Bowl gets bigger numbers than our presidential elections, and does a much better job unifying red and blue states. The power of sports is that they stand for things bigger than us. When you are rooting for an athlete or a local team you root for the power of dreams, resiliency, as well as team unity. Brands like Nike and Lululemon have been able to build movements around this sense of purpose, creating a new form of brand engagement and community. Expect more brands to identify ways to highlight the things that unite us such as values, music, and community.

Sportsmanship Inspires Teamwork. Great sportsmanship is anchored on respect for the other, whether it is a trusted team member or an opponent who shares a great admiration for the tradition of the sport. A great team also immensely respects its coach. This collective view is critical as we seek out collaborators who can help us build greater and more inspiring things. Think of a sports team metaphorically as you map your own professional collaborators, identifying and empowering different backgrounds and skill-sets which can make the total line-up and product stronger.

A Rush To The Head. There is no greater thrill than the sense of accomplishment after a good game or workout. Physical activity, in its varying lengths and intensity, provide a needed adrenaline rush to our system, sharpening our thinking by giving our brains more oxygen and encouraging the creation of grey matter which fuels memory retention and overall sharpness. Explore ways in which sports and other physical activities can be incorporated into your day and to your team-building activities, giving birth to a more badass creative thinker and strategist.

Invaluable Lessons of Defeat. While we tend to focus on the MVPs in Sports, some of the strongest lessons in the field come from the challenges confronted by underdogs. Games, relatively quick in nature, allow for risk-taking, second starts and redemption. These are invaluable lessons for us as we push ourselves to take creative and professional risks, standing out to succeed in what is increasingly a fluid, creative and innovative economy. So get out of your comfort zone and take up a new game where you are likely to fail miserably at least a couple of times, but gain a nice added layer of thicker skin and perspective to come up with new ideas and ways to make them happen.

Credit: REI #OptOutside Campaign

Live in The Present/Think on Your Feet. Our educational system places heavy emphasis on rote, linear learning. We are now in need of the opposite: lateral thinking that breeds new ideas. Sports provide the perfect platform for practicing this skillset by prodding you to be constantly present, to know your surroundings, those players around you and how they can help you keep the ball moving forward towards an end goal. We see this call to action to enjoy the moment gaining more currency in a society that is time poor and experience-hungry. Sports apparel brand REI delivered on this premise powerfully with their #optoutside campaign encouraging consumers to skip Black Friday and enjoy life.

Credit: FitBit

Embracing The (Tech) Future. Sports are ushering some of the newest and most exciting technologies. Leading sports apparel brands, for instance, are empowering us for our busy lives by introducing lighter, multi-purpose fabrics that deliver adaptability for weather and urban living. This stacking of tech to our physical beings is creating a new-gen form of cyborgs: the adaptive being. Technology is also turning sports into a more entertaining experience. Think of more immersive arenas, fully AI-equipped home gyms and entertainment centers, and smart equipment that serve as new forms of the storied coach guiding you through key performance milestones. This experience-rich environment will also come to life in multiple aspects of our lives, intuitively delivering a more personalized experience as we live, work and play.

Becoming More Fearless. Sports requires a belief system and dedication. This is why active brands hold so much sway in inspiring. Think of Nike's timeless "Just do it" platform or Under Armour's recent "I will what I want," female empowerment campaign. Expect brands of all stripes to be more inspired to deliver stories of awe, dedication and unity to a consumer that is looking for extreme authenticity and boldness. This era of more radical branding will require full transparency with the consumer and an invitation for them to be part of the big problems they are addressing: the environment, equality, and entrepreneurship among others. Gone are the days of just selling a good, now the good must stand for something great.

Credit Under Armour

Consumers, fed up with all the current noise and discord, want to be inspired to act by brand leaders that truly embody an ethos. Embracing a competitive Sports-mindset can help you and your organization tap into a more competitive, bold, grounded and fluid essence that might just help you break from the pack and lead. Here's to a new generation of purpose-driven players poised to inspire and lead. Game on!