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Globalizing Calgary Tech Vol. 6 | WestJet’s ‘Hack in the Hangar’

Published: Wednesday, May 12th, 2021

Globalizing Calgary Tech is a series of thoughtfully curated virtual discussions that help connect our community, put the spotlight on local tech and innovation leaders and learn from cities leading in tech and innovation around the world. These discussions and their takeaways lead to action, helping focus our work to massively grow the size of Calgary’s startup and innovation ecosystem. Click here to watch previous Globalizing Calgary Tech events. 

In Globalizing Calgary Tech: Vol 6, we heard from organizers and participants of WestJet’s infamous ‘Hack in the Hangar’. The hackathon happened after WestJet set a goal to find new ways to solve problems, which turned into a full day of innovation with global brands — all under the roof of an airplane hangar. 

The panelists included Alfredo Tan, Sr. VP at Rogers Sports and Media & Former CMO, CDO at WestJet, Diana Luu, Head of Marketing Solutions at LinkedIn, Natalie Farand, VP of Digital at WestJet and Jeremy Vianna, Client Service Leader at Twitter and formerly at Huge. 

The conversation covered how the hackathon came to be, highlights from the day, how its impacts are still playing out today and how corporate innovation can benefit from engaging stakeholders outside their organization. Here are some conversation highlights: 

  1. Establish an innovation mindset. We’re living in a unique time we used to be designing for things that didn’t exist, but now we’re focused on finding innovative ways to make things that already exist even better. This means companies need to adopt an innovation mindset and have the will to ‘make things happen’. When leadership is supportive of new ways to tackle problems, the company as a whole benefits. 
  2. Create a culture where people are empowered to take risks. When people see examples of risk taking at all levels of an organization, it becomes normalized, and a sense of empowerment to put ideas forward can be established. While not all the ideas are going to rise to the top, some will and all it takes is a few. 
  3. Hackathons are more than just ‘innovation theatre,’ they lead to culture change. Hackathons are designed to quickly test ideas regardless of the outcome, there’s learning in the process. In Globalizing Calgary Tech Vol. 4, the panelists discussed the idea of ‘innovation theatre’ and how consistent efforts, along with the resources to realize them, rather than one-off events are what lead to impact. This hackathon is an example of the impact one day can have — the eight-hour event certainly generated buzz, but it wasn’t all for show. It gave WestJet permission to experiment at a speed and level that would have been unheard of otherwise, and lead to ideas that are still being implemented within the company today, ultimately leading to culture change. 
  4. Embrace outside perspectives. WestJet’s hackathon brought together a diverse group — from big names in tech, to flight attendants who were working directly with the public. Diverse perspectives help organizations move out of the ‘echo chamber’ that can keep them stagnant. The panelists agreed that some of the day’s best ideas came from people who didn’t traditionally work in innovation. The day also showed the amount of value that can come for free by exposing a cool problem to the outside. 
  5. Everyone loves a big problem to solve. The Hack in the Hangar was the ultimate example of how much can be achieved when you bring a group of people together to work towards a common goal. The teams were an equal mix of competitive and collaborative, and by the end of eight hours, they presented ideas that influenced WestJet’s roadmap for the next five years.

We’d like to hear from you! We’ll be pausing this series for the summer, with plans to come back bigger and better in the fall. What would you like to hear about in a future volume of Globalizing Calgary Tech? If you have ideas or topic suggestions, let us know through here.

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