The Waffle Innovation


Bill Bowerman was a legendary track and field coach at the University of Oregon.  He coached 24 NCAA individual champions, four NCAA championship teams, 64 All-Americans and the 1972 U.S. Olympic track and field team.  But what he’s most famous for wasn’t accomplished on the track.  It was accomplished in his garage.

Bowerman was an innovator.  He was always trying to protect his team members from injuries and make them faster.  He encouraged them to wear the lightest clothing possible.  He filmed top athletes and looped the tape so that he and his team could study the athletes’ techniques over and over.  He photographed close finishes and developed the pictures in a dark room he created at the field.  He helped develop the rubberized asphalt material used for track fields, because it was safer than grass, particularly when it rained.

But more than all these things, Bowerman was interested in improvements that could be made in an athlete’s running shoes.  Poorly designed shoes accounted for shin splints, foot sores, leg cramps and aching backs.  In the 1950s, he developed a shoe with a heel wedge, better support and lighter sole, but he couldn’t find a company to make it.  So, he began making shoes in his garage.  When he came up with a new design, he would try it out on his team members.  He experimented with different materials in order to lighten the shoe.  By his own calculations, every ounce of weight removed from the shoe was equal to removing 200 pounds of weight from a runner during a one-mile race.

In 1962, Bowerman started Blue Ribbon Sports with Phil Knight, one of his athletes.  Originally, they imported high-tech, low-cost shoes from Japan, but Bowerman quickly became dissatisfied with their design.  He continued to improve shoe designs in his garage.  Then, one morning in 1971, as his wife cooked waffles for breakfast, Bowerman had a mental breakthrough.  He could pour a combination of latex, leather and glue on the waffle iron, let it cool and create a running shoe much lighter than any other on the market.  Even better, the waffle pattern on the sole would allow for better traction.  It took some work (and forgiveness from his wife, no doubt), but he soon had the prototype worked up.  He showed it to Knight, and within a few years, the “waffle shoe” from their upstart company (now named “Nike”) revolutionized the athletic shoe industry.  A few well-placed marketing dollars later, and Nike is now the largest sports and fitness company in the world.

You might think you aren’t creative – that you can’t innovate like a Bill Bowerman or a Thomas Edison or a Bill Gates – but you can!  Innovation begins with a passion for what you do.  Creativity is important, but passion is essential.  Passion keeps you engaged after frustrating failures and costly setbacks.  Passion keeps you thinking over possibilities even after you’ve set the work down.  Passion keeps the door open for creativity to enter in at the most unexpected moments (like when your wife is making waffles).

You ARE creative!  You are made in the image of a Creator God, and He has put His creative spark in you.  All you have to do is find something you love and concentrate on it long enough for that creativity to emerge.

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Filed under creativity, dedication, innovation, overcoming obstacles

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