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Innovation Series: Brian Cobb, Chief Innovation Officer at CVG Airport

Innovation Series: Brian Cobb, Chief Innovation Officer at CVG Airport
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What is the Innovation Series? 

We interview innovation leaders from around the world and share their insights on corporate innovation.

Innovation Leader: Brian Cobb

Brian Cobb was appointed Chief Innovation Officer of Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport (CVG) in January, 2018. Brian originally joined CVG as its first Vice President of Customer Experience in 2010. 

What has been your biggest learning as an innovation leader over the last 12 months?

My answer twelve months ago would vastly differ from today. We went from breakneck record growth in passengers and cargo volume at the end of 2019 to suddenly hearing murmurs turn to warnings turn into restrictions. What felt like almost overnight, globally we slammed on the brakes to shutting down aviation to a near-standstill.

With that in mind, my answer today pivots to compassion, connections, and confidence as the biggest learnings. The wonders of traveling by air to almost anywhere around the world in 24 hours has nearly evaporated. What is already a complex industry now has an incredible task ahead to align efforts with Nation States, find common ground on what’s realistic regarding travel during pandemics, and overcome the globally disparate decision making. I’ve watched many close aviation colleagues out of tens of thousands lose their job outright as a result of mounting pressures and a risky enterprise position of, ‘now is not the time to innovate so eliminate the role, department, and budget spend.’

I contend that it is THE perfect time to innovate. Using CC’s Steve Glaveski’s inspiration, “…how many frustrated intrapreneurs work among us?” Innovation should not come with a perceived special classification. Instead, it should be aligned with any entity’s culture to do better than what you did yesterday. Steve’s personal frustration boiled over to a determination to strike out on his own. We’ll never know what positive impact he could have made with his former company that did not embrace, encourage, and reward an innovative approach to work life. COMPASSION plays a huge part in an entity’s comprehension of their employee’s strengths and capabilities rolling right into what product it produces and how it impacts the end-user. In our case, Air Travel is complex already. Can you imagine what we could do by inspiring innovative thought leadership to replace complexity with compassion for our end-user? At CVG, we’re doing just that. We’re taking that compassionate mindset, leveraging our CONNECTIONS in and outside the industry to introduce new health and wellness standards, all in the interest of restoring CONFIDENCE in aviation and a safe, secure, and healthy return to the skies and beyond.

Which technology are you most excited by and why?

Advanced Automation and Robotics Technology. We were fortunate to be in this vertical well before Coronavirus. It’s now proving to be exceptionally valuable insight and forward leaning. We’ve been running an AI-integrated autonomous floor scrubber among our housekeeping ranks for over a year now. CVG Airport is also just weeks away from publicly announcing a formal engagement with an autonomous vehicle start-up for use case development outdoors on our airfield and campus service vehicle roadways. Having successfully reached minimum viable product (MVP) via pilot testing, we’re incredibly excited for the big reveal. We see this vertical as prime for an airport to leverage and advance. Operating like a micro-city, we see enhanced economic development using this tech through: job growth through autonomous sector R&D;  manufacturing of end product(s) and support equipment; advanced education opportunities; job shifts to higher-grade technical roles and equitable pay; and closing underemployment gaps where lower paying jobs go unfilled or traditional licensed jobs (e.g. high-occupancy passenger vehicles, cargo transports/lorries) fail to draw interest among next-generation workers.

What is the biggest barrier to corporate innovation you’ve encountered and how did or are you overcoming it?

The biggest barrier is the overuse of the term “Innovation”. There are a myriad of definitions, interpretations, and perceptions as to what innovation is. With each iteration, we risk moving further  away from common ground between us. I prefer to approach innovation as classic change management. If you’re not evolving your product or business, you’ll invariably become vulnerable to stagnation and obsolescence. There’s countless name brands that are no longer household names for this very reason. I look to thought leaders, not titles, who have the ability to describe rather than detract how a new way of conducting business or bringing new product to market will power their team, organization, and industry forward. Just like noted above, we’re actively finding those Steve Glaveski ‘intrapreneurs’ before frustration sets in and the flee for an inspiring job opportunity.


What will be the key trend in innovation over the next 12 months?

Using the expression, “Cash is King”, then I contend like others, “Data is Gold”. We collectively have vast amounts of unmined data at our fingertips while generating more billions of bits of data each and every day. Refined data through artificial intelligence, deep learning across multiple industries, and generating predictive analytics from the same will continue to accelerate the pace by which we do business. Industries and businesses who embrace data mining will learn to adapt to market cycle indicators and amply be prepared to moderate dramatic events. Look no further than Covid-19 for an ideal use case. While the transportation industry understood that a pandemic was feasible, it is fair to say that the vast majority of my global colleagues never thought it would happen in our life time. But here we are. While many around the world are focused on the proverbial “silver bullet solution”, others are looking to what we can do to prevent similar spread. It’s not unreasonable to use many of the tools in use today, complimented by others, to monitor community health. Imagine public venues such as malls, arenas, ports, etc. using networked solutions looking for symptomatic trends and without intrusive biometric. If a community trends towards risk level,  could public health work with transportation to effectively restrict travel beyond regional limits? Imagine if this ‘networked approach’ in place where much of the world could theoretically contain an epidemic before blossoming to full global pandemic. And imagine the narrative if such an approach were effective in stopping the spread and restoring economic stability. That’s innovative!

Workflow Podcast

The WorkFlow podcast is hosted by Steve Glaveski with a mission to help you unlock your potential to do more great work in far less time, whether you're working as part of a team or flying solo, and to set you up for a richer life.

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To help you avoid stepping into these all too common pitfalls, we’ve reflected on our five years as an organization working on corporate innovation programs across the globe, and have prepared 100 DOs and DON’Ts.

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Unlock new opportunities and markets by taking your brand into the brave new world.

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Shay Namdarian

Shay is the General Manager of Customer Strategy at Collective Campus. He has over 10 years of experience working across a wide range of projects focusing on customer experience, design thinking, innovation and digital transformation. He has gained his experience across several consulting firms including Ernst & Young, Capgemini and Accenture.

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