Case study: How engagement breeds innovation

Axel Schiphof

Innovation is a broad term. Often misunderstood to only be something that changes the world (i.e. the invention of the wheel), innovation can also occur on a much smaller scale. At work, innovation is not always introducing something so new and fantastic that it changes the whole company, it can just as well be something that makes a small – yet noticeable – difference.

Case study: How engagement breeds innovation

Take for example the pre-takeoff safety announcement on airplanes. The speeches are necessary to inform passengers of vital information. As the announcers are restricted in what they can say the process is rarely captivating. Announcers struggle to get passengers’ full attention, which creates a frustrating situation for crew members.

Innovate the process

So what would happen if a highly engaged employee would give the speech? Would they find a way to innovate the process and grab passengers’ attention long enough that they listen? David Holmes of Southwest Airlines answered these questions. In 2009, David was recorded making his safety announcement. An engaged employee, David decided to give the speech in a new way. He rapped the safety announcement.

For nearly two and a half minutes David rapped. In the process he caught the attention of almost every single passenger on board and whipped up a frenzy rarely ever seen in safety briefings. In stark contrast to normal, passengers actually seemed to enjoy the announcement. A film was made of the rap and posted on YouTube. Southwest Airlines gained huge media attention and David became a brief internet celebrity. To date, the video has racked up over 1.5m views.

Different way of doing

What David did was he innovated. He took a daily task and introduced a completely different way of doing it. Whilst the innovation was hardly a game changer, it did immediately grab the attention of all passengers on board (which is what safety speeches should do but were failing to). Alongside this, it helped increase customer satisfaction (people enjoyed it) and created welcome free publicity for Southwest Airlines.

Passion for the job

All of this was achieved because David is engaged in his work. He has passion for his job which creates the ideal environment for innovation to occur. In the process David managed to do something that others before him failed (mainly getting people’s attention), whilst the company also benefited in more ways than one. Looking towards the future, engaged employees have a much higher chance of continuing to innovate. Through such innovations, colleagues are also more likely to be motivated to do the same.

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