The Politics
of Innovating

Global Innovation Director Charles Johnson talks about the banned Brush Shoe, and more

December 19, 2019

Global Innovation Director Charles Johnson talks about the banned Brush Shoe, and more

December 19, 2019

Some products are legends.
Like PUMA’s 1968 Brush Shoe.
Now Sports Illustrated has published a piece about the tragically short lived success of the shoe. To find out more, we sat down with Global Director of Innovation Charles Johnson.  

What gives an athlete an advantage, and when is it “unfair”?

When can a performance advantage be dangerous?

Can innovation help to change the rules of the game?


Charles Johnson is often faced with these questions, as Global Director of Innovation at PUMA.

Now going on 10 years with PUMA, Charles is passionate about what he does. Pressured to deliver newness daily across the broad athletic spectrum, his knowledgeability makes him a fun person to talk innovation with, especially the legacy of past innovations. But those stories of the past point beyond fun and games, or ideation and prototypes. They bring to light situations where efforts didn’t pay off. Mostly, it’s because of inadequate product performance, or in other words, things beyond the control of designers and innovators. According to Charles, there are plenty of stories of impressive products which failed due to political, financial, or political factors.

One of the most famous examples of an unhappy ending in innovation – and one that Charles readily talks about – was recently published in Sports Illustrated, in an article titled “A Brush With Greatness: The Puma Shoe That Upended the 1968 Olympics”.

In the article, we learn about the short-lived fame of PUMA’s 1968 Brush Shoe. We learn about the innovation behind it, the shoe’s actual performance, and the fascinating mystery of the product’s subsequent banning. We also get a taste for the human factor – specifically the special relationship between Tommy Smith and PUMA, a perfect example of an athlete’s unrelenting loyalty to a brand. It’s sports drama at its best.

The article is definitely worth a read. But the main takeaway is this: While great products are a major part of the equation, the humans using them, and the way our products make them perform, and ultimately feel – that’s the game changer.

Charles sums it up perfectly:

“It inspires us to never forget what makes people and athletes tick. There is the science behind an innovation but there is also the emotion. Both make the difference. Both are what we stand for in our everyday work.”

Charles Johnson, Global Director of Innovation at PUMA

Read the entire article on the Brush Shoe in Sports Illustrated (opens S.I. website).

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