The most important innovation is the employee mindset » Dallas Innovates

An airport is not a place where most people want to experience risk.

Yet it is the job of DFW International Airport’s Executive Vice President of Innovation, Paul Puopolo, to pursue airport innovations, which by their nature involve a degree of risk.

In his recent discussion with the Dallas Regional Chamber’s Innovation Task Force, Puopolo described how the airport is integrating innovation, while maintaining day-to-day operations at one of the world’s busiest airports.

Paul Puopolo, Dallas Fort Worth Airport. [Photo illustration: Christopher Augustine]

Puopolo said the airport puts more emphasis on an evolutionary approach to innovation, where the organization needs buy-in from leaders and workers, applying solutions for immediate gains, while scaling up. working to resolve longer-term sticking points. (Unlike startups, which advance in more revolutionary ways.)

Because technology moves so fast and consumer expectations rise just as quickly, it’s hard to choose which innovations to pursue, he said.

“Everybody loves (the concept of) innovation, but when you actually start doing it, it becomes more of a challenge,” he told about 30 members of the Commission’s innovation task force. ground floor. “But we realize that as an organization we have to change our way of thinking. The old way of doing things is not going to keep up with market changes.

While Puopolo mentioned many high-tech solutions being implemented at the airport – including robotic cleaning machines, creating a digital twin of Terminal B, self-service bag drops and becoming the first carbon-neutral airport in the United States – he said the biggest shift has been in the mindset of workers.

Specifically, encouraging open discussions between management and frontline workers about new ideas will result in constructive and innovative solutions.

Engaging in heated debates “seems pretty typical if you’re a tech company,” Puopolo said. “But if you’re a large, regulated organization, healthy debate is different. Having a lot of people around the table is one thing, but getting people to challenge each other around the table and not be offended is another thing. To do innovation effectively, you need to have healthy conflict. »

To help facilitate changes in the way things are done at the airport, airport employees have undergone basic innovation training.

“It’s a game changer for us at the airport where you encourage everyone to question, explore and experiment, no matter where they are in the organization and voice their opinions,” Puopolo said. “It’s a culture change. The institutional risk we have is just as important as the process.

The process of engaging airport staff in the ideation and identification of problems – where individuals can develop solutions and managers, who are also present, can validate them – is integral to the transmission of change at the airport.

Change has become “so central to the operation of the airport” that innovation and digital transformation are now two of four themes in the airport’s strategic plan, Puopolo said.

A version of this story first appeared on the Dallas Regional Chamber website. Dallas Innovates is a collaboration between D Magazine Partners and the Dallas Regional Chamber.

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