Advice From Ralph Lauren Innovation Chief David Lauren: Be The Shark

Here’s how the vice president and chief innovation officer of Ralph Lauren keeps the 49-year-old company moving forward.

Advice From Ralph Lauren Innovation Chief David Lauren: Be The Shark
David Lauren, chief innovation officer at Ralph Lauren [Photo: ioulex]

To keep stalwart preppy brand Ralph Lauren relevant in a fast-fashion era, David Lauren is looking for fresh ideas at every level of the company.

“When I started about 17 years ago, there were about 6,800 employees. Today, there are 26,000,” Lauren said at the Fast Company Innovation Festival in November. “My job is to make sure we’re protecting the brand DNA and innovating. It’s hard to move large organizations, no doubt about it. It’s about [finding] entrepreneurial energy. You have to figure out ways to think small. At our company, although it seems like we have a lot of employees, when you go in and meet each team, it’s just a handful of people. The more nimble we can be, the more we can be tuned in, so we’ll hear the [next] idea and try it.

“The truth is that innovation comes from every group. When you walk into a store, there’s a guy in the back who looks like he’s just stocking shelves. He may have the best idea. You have to take your ego out [of the equation] and recognize that the idea could come from anywhere. We’ve [also] created a culture where you don’t feel intimidated to bring your ideas forward. Failure is built into it: We’re making millions of products every day, and maybe we’ll sell a ton of one jacket, but five other jackets may not sell as well. And we learn. The goal is to see what works, and to be able to say, ‘That’s not working—evolve it.’ It’s kind of like Woody Allen [says] in Annie Hall: A shark has to keep moving forward or it dies. You have to keep moving forward.”