top of page

Just doing it wrong at times is the solution to getting it right

Updated: Jan 7

How the IncubatorU 5-Step Methodology is applied to any situation.

Every year while I was leading the product creation for Nike Tennis I loved getting on a flight to Australia (their summer) from Beaverton Oregon (our wet winter) to make sure our product was working for the best tennis players in the world at the beginning of their season.

Riverwalk in Melbourne Australia
The Riverwalk in Melbourne between my apartment and Australian Open Tennis Compound

As the Product Creation Director for Nike Tennis Footwear, the Australian Open was the perfect testing point to make sure our product was performing to be the best of it's ability in some of the harshest conditions on the Tour.

Serena Williams practicing at the Australian Open in 2009
Serena Williams at practice with her new signature shoes and orthotics

The courts could reach over 130 degrees fahrenheit on the surfaces which in turn would test the durablity and performances of the shoes to extreme levels.

One of my roles was to make sure the product for our top athletes arrived on time and was in place for them to wear and perform in. I transported shoes for Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Serena Williams. These shoes were to new models to hit the market as the season launched. In addition to transporting the footwear to the athletes I was asked to hand carry Serena's early round tennis outfits for her to try on before the tournament started.

Roger Federer playing an early round match at the 2009 Australian Open
Roger Federer at the 2009 Australian Open with his signature shoes that had a small piece of rubber break off during his match that was addressed right away in the next round

Every Nike department had different budgets for events like this one. I knew that I would need to extend my stay to make sure the product was working and solve any issues that might arise early on in the tournament. These issues could range in fit, durablity or craftsmanship to ensure that we started off the year with the best product possible as the season got underway.

I did have access to the Athletes, Nike's Hospitality Suite and everywhere on the Australian Open Grounds including the practice facilities, locker rooms and the dining areas. The Nike Product Creation Team did not have the same budget for these tournaments that our team in Sports Marketing. It was important for me to be there but not spend money that was not budgeted. I have always looked at ways to maximize the resources that are available so I found a small apartment on the light rail line to stay in for the first couple weeks of the tournament. My entire 2 weeks cost about the same as a couple of nights in the tournament hotel.

Apartment in Melbourne where Michael Bergmann washed and shrunk Serena's Laundry
My apartment in downtown Melbourne for a couple weeks.

Serena Williams Orthotics
Serena's old and new orthotics that needed to fit into her signature custom made shoes

I hand carried Serena's shoes to Melbourne and met with my contacts at the WTA whom I had been working with to make sure Serena's orthotics fit properly into her new signature shoes. There were some adjustments we needed to make but "identified" locally a cobbler that had the ability to stretch out the shoes in order for the orthotics to fit properly into the footbed of the shoes. I spent time at practice with my camera taking photos of her feet and the shoes to make sure she was comfortable performing in the new product as the tournament begin.

Michael Bergmann's photos of Serena's shoes
Bergmann photographing Serena's feet and shoes during practice.

While I was working on getting the footwear fitting correctly for Serena I was told that Serena's outfit was not fitting properly as she had worked her way into top shape over the winter and earlier tournaments leading up to the 2009 Australian Open.

As a Product Developer and now as an Innovator I have always looked at how to solve a problem through multiple angles and approaches.

It was important as one of the team to help solve the problem of proper fit even though my expertise was in footwear and not apparel. Knowing that our team was looking for solutions I happened to mention that at my apartment in downtown Melbourne that I had a washer and dryer available to me.

Products ( Federer's and Serena's shoes) in the Aparment
Bergmann's apartment in downtown Melbourne with Federer, Williams and Nadal's shoes in addition to Serena's outfits ready for the wash

I would never advocate for someone to put their shoes in a washer and dryer and I certainly never put my Nike Dri Fit into a dryer because it could shrink or negatively impact the quality of the material.

I offered to take one of Serena's outfits to see if washing it in hot water ( a big no-no) and drying it on high ( another bad decision) would shrink the outfit enough to help make it fit properly as she started playing in the tournament.

My "Imagine" and gut instinct worked for the individual outfit and I was promptly requested to do the same for the other 10-12 outfits that were needed for the upcoming tournament.

This is one of those situations that doing the wrong thing sometimes leads to a solution that is the right thing.

Serena's Australian Open Outfit after Michael Bergmann shrunk it in the laundry
Serena's Australian Open Outfits after washing them in hot water and drying them on high heat to shrink them down a size

As I was washing and drying the dozen outfits in advance of the tournament, I knew that this was a story that nobody would believe unless I somehow documented it.

Serena's outfit
The picture of Serena's outfits that I took because I was never sure anyone would believe this story...

Luckily I traveled with my camera to capture the athlete's movements on the court but also took the opportunity to take photos of Serena's outfits that I was washing and drying on high.

Every January as the Tennis season begins in Australia I am reminded of one of my favorite problem solving stories that had nothing to do with my job but everything to do to find a solution to a problem.

The IncubatorU 5 Step Methodology was applied to address a problem that emerged real time

  1. Imagine: While working on footwear solutions I applied my creative thinking on the limited knowledge I had on how to slightly shrink apparel.

  2. Identify: I was able to identify resources around me ( washer and dryer) to test a solution to the problem

  3. Initiate: I took some time to do all of Serena's outfits and prayed that they held up during the tournament.

  4. Implement: We were able to communicate to the Apparel Product Creation Team how much the outfit shrunk in size so that they could make those adjustments for outfits later in the tournament.

  5. Integrate: This process needed to be worked into the Product Creation Process earlier in order to make these adjustments as time went on.

Serena competing in the 2009 Australian Open

bottom of page