Paul Gaudio: On the United Creative Force

Paradigm Shifters is a series of interviews with a select group of women and men from eclectic walks of life. It will highlight unspoken, real life insights on how they have been able to turn weakness into strength. A naked soul point of view of how their breakdowns were really a preparation for breakthroughs. They are your quintessential Paradigm Shifters; internal shifts converted into genuine change.

Everything I have ever done has been focused on this underlying theme of shifting the paradigm because, "what we think determines what we feel and what we feel determines what we do." Hence why Empowered by You takes lingerie, which has traditionally been seen merely as a tool of seduction and redirected that energy as a tool of empowerment.

I hope from these stories you will look at your own situations, struggles and accomplishments through a different lens. At the very least you will be more equipped with real life tools to change your own paradigm. At the end of the day we are our own Alchemist turning the silver we were born with into the gold we are destined to become.

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Paul Gaudio - Adidas Global Creative Director

What did you take away from your time spent with start-ups and bring to adidas?

That was probably the watershed moment in my professional life. The consulting world was something I knew but what I found myself really getting into as a consultant was the new businesses. The start-up thing is really compelling because you're not just creating a thing or a product but you're shaping a business, you're shaping the whole picture. When you're trying to introduce something new, you have to build the entire concept around it to bring it to market, to sell it, and to support it. The start up world was a blank canvas. It was a chance for me to create the new everyday and that is why I got sucked into it. [Norton Motorcycles] was a client of mine that I had just started to work on for free because it was so exciting. The Norton motorcycle was a high-performing product and it touched everything that I found fascinating about design and my career and the world that I had come from. It was style, it was personal, it was emotional, it was mechanical. So I had no choice, I was just compelled to go do it and I dove into that headfirst. It really was this sort of life changing, career changing experience.

How do you find this balance between function and style?

I think for me it's the most natural approach to designing anything. You can't separate function from style. You can't not pay attention to what is going on in the world around you. You can't not pay attention to what people find relevant and interesting. I always try to tie those things together. As a brand, we have a history of combining creativity and sport and it was that combination that brought me back to adidas. When I came back to adidas, I wasn't in a traditional creative role. The reason for that was because, in a start-up, you have to get involved in more than the development and design of the product. I found myself getting interested in the strategy behind the business and so I eased back into the brand that way because I really wanted to be a part of getting adidas back on track. I wanted to help to bring the brand into the future while not losing sight of where it came from.

After doing that for a number of years, I got more involved in the creative side of things. When we started looking to revamp our strategies and objectives as a brand, we turned the whole organization upside down. One of the key areas of focus was design. We needed to become a leader in design again and in order to do that we needed more design leadership. That's where I fit in. On one hand, while my job is to lead the creative team, a good part of my job is to represent the creative team- to enable the creative to create. And really, ultimately, set [the design team] free, not dictate what they do. That's how I manage such a vast team of people and such a wide array of products- I don't do it myself. I am one person in this place. We have a ton of incredibly talented people that make it all go- hundreds and hundreds of talented creators that make it happen. I collaborate with these people, and I work for them. It's my job to set the context, to build the sandbox that they can play in. Once they start to play, I step out of the way and let them do great work.

How are you looking to elevate the brand in the future?

One way is collaboration; two heads are better than one. Once you start to bounce ideas off each other, you start to get something new and better than if you had just sat by yourself. Internally, we drive that culture very hard here. It's definitely something that is very important to me when I select creative leaders. The person's ability, desire, and passion to collaborate are paramount to us when making those decisions. We apply that to how we operate externally as well. I think we all understand that you can't go at it alone in this world...Things are moving so fast and in so many different directions. A fundamental strategic tenet at adidas is that we are open, our doors are open, and our brand is open. We want to see what we can do new and different. Not all [collaborations] work out, but that's not really the point. You have to be out there mixing it up with people to have the gems land. We are constantly looking outside. And it's not just the high profile collaborations with an elite athlete or an elite entertainer [that we are after]; we are constantly collaborating with technology partners, with manufacturers. For example, Parley for the Oceans is something that we are extremely excited about. We want to help make the world a better place, that's part of who we say we want to be. We believe sport has the power to change lives, and so we want to bring that to life, we want to make that real. Working with a brand like Parley really allows us to get dirty and to try and make a difference. It helps us to be who we want to be. It helps us to explore things we might not normally explore if we were just locked in our offices.

Have you ever had a time in your life when just because you saw something different, you began to live your life different?

I think we probably have those moments all the time and don't take stock of them. Coming from a corporate environment, you take certain things for granted. I think you become very focused on your piece of the puzzle. Going into that start up setting forces you to think completely outside of your own little area- you can't afford to just think about yourself and your needs. If you had a dollar to spend, you can't think, "Oh great, I'll throw this into design." You have to think, "Well, we have mechanics in the shop or marketing to do or an event to get to." It forced me to consider solutions far more broadly than I had in the past. [This new perspective] prepared me for the next stage in my career, which was to understand what it takes to manage and lead a cross-functional team. Ultimately, I think [leading a team] is one of the most satisfying things you can do professionally; you get to keep your head in all the different and interesting challenges across a business. It's really exciting and stimulating. [Working for a start-up] also taught me how to deal with professional stress- to deal with uncertainty and ambiguity, and to really get comfortable with it. I think you can only really create when you are comfortable with those things. If you're fighting them or attempting to control them, you get stiff and anxious and I don't think you do your best work. I feel like it allowed me to get my feet in rough seas and keep a head about me. I think it was a big take away.

What do you want your legacy to be?

Not to sound cliché, but my family is the most important thing to me. I try to provide for my family and set an example for my kids by how I live. That's the personal side. Professionally, I definitely would love people to say, "Yeah, I loved working with that guy." It gets back to that desire to collaborate. Where I see my value is where I've done something good, where I have helped someone out. Or maybe the value is where I've shined a light for someone and helped him to achieve something great himself.

There are brands and then there are threads of DNA. Adidas is a thread of our global DNA. If you live on this planet you have in some way shape or form been touched by Adidas. Behind this force sits Paul and his team who you can feel are a tight group of people that elevate each other. With such a deep appreciation for design, collaboration and team work, this brand is undoubtedly on its way to have transformative impact.