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Thursday Complexity Post
January 2, 2014

Empathy, Ingenuity, Innovation


Kevin Plank, founder of the performance apparel maker Under Armour has a new product-a running shoe that fits like a brassiere and he plans to launch it in Shanghai, an emerging market where few have heard of his products. He predicts the new footwear will change the way people all over the world think about shoes.


Initially, Under Armour was a guy product. Plank hated the cotton T shirt he wore under his University of Maryland football uniform. It felt awful when soaked with sweat. He began experimenting in his grandmother's basement to make an undershirt with the same fabrics used for women's lingerie-fabrics that wicked moisture away from the body and kept the wearer cool and dry. The Hub magazine tells the story of Under Armour's dramatic growth from that basement more than 16 years ago to a $2 million a year company with 6,000 employees. And as brand chief Steve Battista explains, at Under Armour, innovation isn't a department, it's a life style. Among other things, the company has produced a sweatshirt that sheds water like a duck, and a shirt that monitors heart rate. Even the company name reflects diligent contrivance: the 800 phone numbers Plank first used had too many digits to spell out Under Armor so he added a "u." Always the entrepreneur, seed money for Under Armour came from Plank's earlier venture selling Valentine's Day roses.


The Hub story says early advertising avoided mentioning feminine fabrics and began with what it calls "the testosterone-drenched question  'Will You Protect This House' and the emphatic, now-iconic response 'I Will!'"


Protecting the house resonated well with sports teams defending their home turf, but wasn't necessarily a universal rallying cry. In Shanghai, Plank and his team focused on the "I Will!" While people in Shanghai tend to work out regularly they don't consider themselves athletes, they reasoned, so the "I Will" slogan provides inspiration for men and women who aren't necessarily playing on sports teams any more, and it suggests a commitment to achieve no matter the challenge.


The company's pitch to athletes involved nuance. Rather than showing trophies after a win, ads featured the click of the football cleats on the concrete walkway onto the field, the last thing players heard just before the game. The pitch to a broader audience was equally engaging. The Hub reports that in 2013 when the company launched its Armour 39, a digital performance monitor, advertising focused on the idea that future performance wear will feature touch screens in the fabric that will let the wearer set temperature, choose music and change color with a finger-swipe. A woman called "Future Girl" demonstrates. The idea, according to Plank and Battista, is to tell the story of Under Armor's inventiveness and fuel the expectation "that we're doing some amazing stuff" in conjunction with an emotional message that will make people want to get up and work out.


In "Empathetic Innovation," another article in the same issue of The Hub, Tom Kelley and David Kelley, both of Ideo, describe how products and projects change when providers and manufacturers see and experience what users and customers are doing. For instance, they say, in 2007 banks were making more than $30 million a year in overdraft fees. But after interviewing people in the 20 to 35 age range they wanted as new customers, PNC Financial Services realized people in this group needed help managing their money. So they created Virtual Wallet, a product that lets customers plan savings as well as viewing their balance, pay deposits, bills due and highlights "danger days" when there's high risk of writing a rubber check. New customer deposits made up what they lost in overdraft fees. Sometimes observing can be more fruitful than asking the right questions, the Ideo executives say. Working with a house wares company, an Ideo team observed customers using an ice cream scoop. Many absent mindedly licked the scoop after using it. So the team designed a "mouth friendly" scoop, with no sharp edges or moveable parts that would hurt the tongue. Had people been asked about using the scoop, they probably wouldn't have mentioned licking it, the authors of this piece say, and they might even have denied it. Read The Hub stories here.



Remember PlexusCalls!

Friday, January 10, 2014- 1-2 PM ET

Citizens, Community and Education in South Africa 
Guest: Louise van Rhyn and Lisa Kimball




How can citizens create a culture of collaboration, lead lives of contribution and become social architects of the communities they envision? The DVD South Africa: Alive With Possibility  has examples. Organizational Development guru and thought leader Peter Block says Louise van Rhyn has "the passion to restore high performance and humanity to our organizations and communities. She is a national treasure."  


Louise van Rhyn founded Symphonia, a group of organizations committed to sustainable transformation in people, teams, companies, organizations, and communities, in 2008. She has a doctoral degree in organizational change, and 25 years experience as a change practitioner with focus on large scale change in complex social systems. Through Symphonia for South Africa, a community focused-NPO, she is committed to mobilizing citizens to become actively involved addressing the educational crisis in South Africa. She initiated the innovative School@theCentreofCommunity leadership development process that creates an opportunity for business leaders and school principals to develop their leadership skills in co-learning partnerships. Louise has studied complex systems with Ralph Stacey and Patricia Shaw.


Lisa Kimball, PhD is an entrepreneur with more than 30 years experience as an organizational consultant with business, government and nonprofit organizations. As CEO of Metasystems Design Group and Executive Producer of Group Jazz she supported the efforts of teams, task forces, communities and organizations and specialized in helping them leverage the power of new technology and social media. She is active in online community work, organizational development (she also serves on the Board of the Organization Development Network) and is skilled in applying complexity-inspired principles. She has worked with hospitals applying Positive Deviance methodology to the problem of eliminating transmission of hospital acquired "superbug" infections. She has trained PD consultants and coaches as well as designing and developing materials to support hospital teams. She holds a Ph.D. in Educational Psychology; Cognition & Learning from Catholic University of America where her research focused on problem solving strategies of senior executives in complex systems. Lisa served as Plexus Institute President for three years and continues to serve Plexus as chair for learning programs.



Remember PlexusCalls!

Friday, January 24, 2014- 1-2 PM ET

Teamwork in Health Care 
Guests: James Begun, Gordon Mosser, and Daniel Pesut




Competent and skillfully coordinated teamwork improves every aspect of health care, yet it is rarely a focus of education in health medical disciplines. In their new book, Understanding Teamwork in Health Care, Gordon Mosser and Jim Begun, offer an enlightening and engaging guide to interdisciplinary cooperation among the professionals who work with patients and their families. Do you want to know more about team building, collaboration, communication and conflict resolution in teams? Read their complete bios.


Audio from all PlexusCall series is available by searching the iTunes store for plexuscalls. Or, visit under Resources/Call Series. 


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