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Exceeding Expectations

Damien Huang, SVP Design & Product Merchandising, Eddie Bauer
Courtney Scharf
January 12th, 2015
As the Senior VP of Design and Product Merchandising at Eddie Bauer, Damien Huang is tasked with the challenge of bridging new technology and design with a storied heritage brand. Understanding the importance and role of failure when it comes to innovation, he makes it a priority to create a work environment where experimentation is encouraged and valued.

3 Questions with Damien Huang:

1. How do you motivate your team to generate good ideas?
We hire people with that ability and allow them the freedom to pursue new ideas and concepts. Our most successful, and consistently innovative teams are constantly experimenting and trying new things. We are careful not to overuse the word ‘innovation’ too much: it is tied strongly to technology and gadgetry, and given the scope of our product line, we like to take an expansive view of how we can be innovative. We consider new aesthetics, brand expressions, and creative languages all part of an innovative culture.

3. What makes an innovative culture? How do you create a culture of innovation?
First and foremost, innovative teams cannot be penalized for failure. Taking risks and trying new ideas should be rewarded. An important part of that effort is giving teams the time and permission to experiment. Second, a company should be tactical in how it asks its teams to be innovative, and what it defines as innovative. Is it number of patents? Revenue? Or something less tangible? Third, pay attention to the structure of the organization and where you want/expect innovation to come from.

4. What’s an example of when you were most proud of your team?
The launch of First Ascent and Sportshop lines over the past 4 years have been instrumental in getting Eddie Bauer back on track. We’ve one 18 (and counting) gear of the year type awards in a variety of categories, more than any other outdoor brand in that timeframe. I look at that period of success as one of the proudest time periods for the team. We hope the trend continues.

5. Do you have any team rituals to help encourage innovation?
We look to our guides and the outdoors for inspiration. Innovation at its core is about breaking a compromise, whether it’s combining something as simple as ‘lightweight’ and ‘durable’, or rugged with flexible, etc. We like to look at what a user traditionally gives up in order to gain something else, then try to force that compromise to break.
References: linkedin, eddiebauer