Field coach Bill Bowerman

Bill Bowerman and Steve Prefontaine

The Fast Company Innovation FestivalWhen most people think about Nike, they believe of superstar professional athletes like Michael Jordan, Mia Hamm, and Tiger Woods. When Nike's very own workers think about their particular company, they believe of a retired college track advisor, an Olympic runner whoever career finished tragically in a 1975 car crash, and a so-so athlete whoever accomplishments as an entrepreneur far outpaced his achievements as a runner.

We have heard of Nike CEO Phil Knight, a middle-distance runner whom switched attempting to sell shoes from his vehicle into a footwear-and-apparel colossus. But couple of recognize of Nike cofounder Bill Bowerman, Knight's coach, or of Steve Prefontaine, the now-deceased runner who was also coached by Bowerman and whoever crusade for better equipment influenced Bowerman and Knight to construct the Nike kingdom. Yet, inside Nike, those three figures are far more strongly related the business's feeling of identity than just about any of their superstar spokespeople.

Why? Because Nike has made comprehending its history an intrinsic part of its corporate tradition. Think of this strategy as internal branding: The tales which you tell regarding your previous form your own future. Which is the reason why, nowadays, Nike has many senior professionals just who spend much of their time serving as "corporate storytellers" — explaining the company's heritage to everyone from vice presidents and product sales representatives towards per hour employees whom run the bucks registers at Nike's stores. "Our tales aren't about extraordinary company programs or economic manipulations, " describes Nelson Farris, 57, Nike's director of corporate knowledge together with company's main storyteller. "They may be about men and women getting things done."

And like all great stories, the ones about Nike offer archetypes that folks can study on. Whenever Nike's leaders tell the story of exactly how Coach Bowerman, after determining that his staff needed much better running shoes, went out to their workshop and poured rubber in to the family members waffle iron, they're not merely speaking about just how Nike's famous "waffle only" was created. They are speaing frankly about the character of development. Likewise, whenever brand-new hires hear reports of Prefontaine's battles to create working a specialist recreation and also to achieve better-performing gear, they hear tales of Nike's dedication to assisting professional athletes.

Within the last few years, Nike has actually skilled the roller coaster that lots of businesses ride: euphoric periods of development followed by setbacks and community backlash. But through each one of these pros and cons, winning companies hold on to their values. "To survive those downtimes, " describes Farris, "you need to know very well what genuine teamwork is — keeping guarantees, keeping commitments. Not every person comprehended this, but both Knight and Prefontaine performed, because that's exactly what Bowerman taught their athletes. As one of our very first staff members stated, 'Not everybody grew up on the track with Bowerman. They did not understand what it took to be great.' "

To foster that type of comprehension, the business launched its corporate-storytelling program. If the program started, into the late 1970s, it had been an hour-long example provided to new staff members if they appeared to sign their particular W-2s. These days, orientation lasts 2 days, plus the story of Nike's history may be the very first product in the schedule. Utilizing the business straight back in the development track, Farris envisions everyday as soon as the positioning process will last a week and occur at "Nike University."

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