Louise-Eglantine Guillaume
Head of Sustainability, Compliance and Institutional Affairs
Decathlon
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Expert Contributor

Easybreath: How Innovation is Being Used to fight COVID-19

By Louise-Eglantine Guillaume | Fri, 07/10/2020 - 08:17

“A smooth sea never made a skilled sailor.” (Franklin D. Roosevelt). 
Certainly, these days are no smooth sea, as we are facing one of the toughest storms humanity has encountered in the last centuries. However, in adverse and chaotic times there are also huge opportunities to evolve and bring out the best in humankind: our creativity, science, technology and innovation, among the many other qualities that characterize us. During the period of this global crisis, we have been witnesses to many examples of individuals, entrepreneurs, companies and governments looking at the glass half full, and that has changed the way they commercialize their products or services. The big question is: How do we turn such a critical situation into an opportunity to use our resources to create solutions?

I believe that innovation plays a vital role in solving challenges. Throughout history, we have seen many examples of great inventions that solved problems and facilitated change. However, it is not enough to create something new. To get greater results, it is necessary to dig deeper and analyze each aspect of the product or service that you are creating and test it as many times as you can with as many different audiences as possible. This will allow you to perfect something that can achieve much greater results. Imagine if we had settled for the first invention of the soccer ball? We would still be playing soccer with pig bladders.

Failure plays a very important role in the path to success. I like to think that every failure brings you one step closer to achieving your goal. I've seen that many times, both in my personal life and especially in my professional trajectory in Decathlon. One of the things that I'm most proud of with my company is the empowerment given to the collaborators who dare to try and fail. Everyone in the company has the right to make errors and learn and grow through them. I've seen this mentality at many levels of the organization and I can assure that it is our main strength and a vital factor that has allowed us to position Decathlon as the biggest sports retailer in the world. This philosophy also applies to the development of our products that undergo a thorough and unique process.

Our product design starts by acquiring knowledge about the human body in different sports environments and analyzing the human anatomy in motion as well as its interaction with different sports products and the observation of the necessities of our customers. All these tests and experiments take place in our Sports Lab facilities and are managed by a multidisciplinary team of scientists and engineers as well as high-performance athletes from diverse disciplines who undergo the tests and provide thorough feedback about the use of the product. Sometimes, the feedback is not positive and we have to start the design from scratch, but this assures us that when we release a new product, it's going to offer users a unique sports experience.

One of the best examples of an innovation we developed and that we are very proud of is the Easybreath Snorkel Mask. The main question we asked ourselves when we were developing this product was how to offer a better and more enjoyable experience to snorkelers? After several studies and tests, we eventually designed the first full-face snorkeling mask that allows you to see and breathe in the water as easily as on land. Another great example of innovation is the “Two-Second Camping Tent.” In just two seconds, this compact tent will pop up and be ready for use. With both products we were able to perfect them and expand their range of functionalities. That's what innovation is all about, as evidenced by the further development of the mask, but I'll get back to that later. 

Easybreath Snorkel Mask
Easybreath Snorkel Mask by Decathlon

I believe another main key for success is the ability to adapt to a changing environment. This is not only quality, it's a need for the survival of any business. We have seen many cases of companies, like BlockBuster and Kodak, that didn't set innovation as a priority. Before they were leaders in their markets, but now they are completely obsolete. On the other hand, companies like Amazon and Netflix look ahead to the future and that has allowed them to have a broad perspective and anticipate their strategies, positioning themselves one step ahead of the market. Decathlon is no exception to this. We firmly believe that planning ahead puts us in a privileged position. This is why all of our business strategies and vision are planned according to where we want to be in 10 years and how our consumers' behaviors are going to evolve. Accompanied by vitality and responsibility, this builds what we call the spine and DNA of every Decathlonian.

Now, adaptation is not only about getting ahead of the market trends. It is also about providing well-being in times of adversity by adapting your resources to serve a different purpose. The best example of this is once again our Easybreath Mask. When the COVID-19 pandemic started, several initiatives emerged in many countries to adapt Easybreath Masks to support medical staff and patients. After exhaustively performing several investigations and tests, in alliance with other organizations, the adaptation of the mask was achieved with two main functions: The first was as a non-invasive respirator that allows COVID-19 patients to receive air by connecting the mask to a respirator. And the second was as an IPE (Individual Protective Equipment), which aims to protect medical personnel and thus avoid contagion when in contact with patients. In Mexico, we have replicated this initiative, working with Alstom, a consortium of french companies and doctors with a presence in this country. With the valuable support of all our allies, we were able to donate adapted masks to several Mexican medical institutions in the best hope that they are now contributing to save lives. 

This is a great example of how to put innovation to work for the well-being of society. The Easybreath was originally conceived to improve the snorkeling experience but now it serves a greater purpose and we are proud to say it is an innovative, fully-functional tool used to fight COVID-19. Coronavirus is an organism that is continuously evolving and that originated from the SARS-CoV-1, which caused the epidemic of the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in 2002. Eventually, it evolved to MERS-CoV, which produced the epidemic of respiratory syndrome in the Middle East in 2012. Now, we are facing the latest stage of evolution of this virus, the SARS-CoV-2. If viruses and diseases are adapting to the environment and evolving, then we should also adapt, evolve and try to stay one step ahead to be better-positioned and not be caught off guard.

The four main things that this pandemic has made me reflect on are: first, innovation is the engine of growth for any business. Second, it is important to adapt to changes because you never know when the tide is going to change. Third, it is vital to have a vision for the future and you have to plan strategies in advance. Finally, in times of adversity, the greatest strength comes from unity and teamwork. Soon, we will get over this crisis, but we must reflect on how the ways we do things will change because the world is continuously evolving and it is not waiting for anyone. Are you willing to stand up to the challenge?