Tom Waller podcast

038: Tom Waller on the science of feel to optimise performance

In this episode, Steve interviews Dr. Tom Waller, the Senior Vice President of Whitespace, Innovation and R&D at lululemon athletica. They start by discussing the unique name of lululemon and then delve into Tom’s background, which includes a PhD from Loughborough University, work at Progressive Sports Technologies, and a significant role at Speedo. Tom was mentored by Professor Mike Caine during his PhD, an experience that shaped his approach to innovation.

Tom emphasizes the importance of being purpose-driven and employing lateral thinking in the innovation process. He believes that making connections between seemingly unrelated domains can lead to revolutionary ideas, especially in our rapidly evolving world. Discussing lululemon’s market strategy, Tom explains how technological innovation is translated into products that resonate with consumers. He emphasizes the difference between the meaning and the association that people have with a product, and how this informs their approach to innovation.

One of the key aspects discussed is lululemon’s concept of ‘the science of feel,’ which is about optimizing sensory feedback to enhance performance. This includes understanding how different ‘feels’ in different contexts—like the feel of a sports bra—can affect an athlete’s output. Tom views this sensory feedback as a crucial dialog between body and mind.

Finally, Tom provides an insider look into the culture at lululemon, describing the team as purpose-driven entrepreneurs who are strongly aligned with the company’s vision and goals. When asked about what’s next, the conversation hints at more innovative projects in the pipeline. Overall, Tom’s perspective offers a deep dive into the intersections of technology, innovation, and human experience in the business of athletic wear.

4:20 – Steve and Tom begin by discussing the origins of lululemon’s name before delving into Tom’s background and his journey with Progressive Sports Technologies, Speedo and lululemon.

17:08 – Steve enquiries about Tom’s experiences of being mentored by Professor Mike Caine throughout his PhD at Loughborough University.

19:40 – Tom discusses the importance of being purpose driven, lateral thinking and connecting diverse dots in generating new innovation and perspective in a radically changing world.

27:40 – Steve asks how Tom brings technological innovation in lululemon’s products to the mass market. In particular he expands on the differences between meaning and association with a product.

34:22 – Tom expands on lululemon’s concept ‘the science of feel’, how we require different ‘feels’ in different contexts to perform optimally and gives us an example with the sports bra.

55:25 – The importance of feel as a sensory feedback source for athletes to optimise performance. The science of feel was an idea conceptualised by LuLuLemon to help manage the dialogue between body and mind.

59:45 – Tom offers more insight into the culture at lululemon – they’re a team of entrepreneurs who have a strong collective and individual alignment on purpose, vision and goals.

1:08:40 – Steve asks Tom, what is next?

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