Get outside yourself. This is also incredibly important. There are so many examples of this, but the big one is Nike Air. Arguably the greatest innovation in sneaker history – from a cushioning standpoint at least – and it came from space exploration. A Nasa engineer came to us because he’d been experimenting with blow moulding tech in astronauts’ helmets. Nike was open to this and it led directly to what we all know today as Nike Air.
The most impressive sportsman I ever worked with was Kobe Bryant. As a creative partner, he was amazing – boundless courage and curiosity. His pursuit of growth outside the game of basketball was remarkable. He was so engaged in the worlds of film making, technology and art. Anytime you sat down with him, he would have all these rich points of inspiration and he’d be ready to share them with you. It’s incredible to think he was driving his team to be the best in the world on the court, while finding time each day to look outside himself at what was happening elsewhere. He was bringing this into Nike, making our jobs inspiring – and also easier. Complacency is the enemy of creativity, and he stands out as someone who had such a creative mindset that he fuelled through curiosity.
Finding inspiration like that should be a daily habit. Don’t wait for it to hit you by chance. Give yourself homework: today I’m going to meet this person, tomorrow I’m going to cold-call this leader in their field because I want to pick their brain; when I go to that city, I’m going to go to these new places, that studio, this museum. Last time I counted, I had about 5,000 screenshots on my phone. The vast majority don’t lead to anything, but it only takes one of them to hit and lead to an innovation – the next Nike Air…
Roger Federer is special too. Just the fact he could win – that he could be so dominant in his space – with that level of humility and humanity. He’s another one who shows that athletes are multidimensional humans too. So often all we see of them is their sporting excellence, and the drive and expertise that goes into creating a generational talent. Our job was to go beyond that and reveal the full mosaic of their personalities – their humanity.
The very best athletes are at their best when it matters most. That’s what sets them apart – and what they have in common. They can focus at the highest level of competition and they consistently execute in those moments.
The Air Jordan 3 is my favourite Nike product. Or maybe the Air Jordan 11. I’ll say they’re tied for number one all-time greatest sneaker designs. I wear the Jordan 3 the most, I think, but what they both have is style and performance. There’s a personality and soul to them – they’ve got a character and they’re loaded with emotion even when they’re just sitting on a shelf. I think a lot can be learned just looking at those two styles.
It's just as hard to pick between Ronaldo and Ronaldinho. I worked with the Brazilian football team from the mid-90s onwards. Both of them played with a smile on their faces and both were the best player in the world at different moments. They played the game in such a dynamic, beautiful way. You could see the joy, the passion they had and that they shared with everybody watching. That’s why they were transcendent and why we’ll look back on them as icons. Passion, joy, style and performance – I think I just worked out the formula.