Innovation is not a process or a project. It’s not a buzzword or a poster. Innovation is a mindset, an ongoing cultural element that continuously impacts the enterprise.

Cathay Pacific, Hong Kong’s flagship airline, drives one of the most dynamic and successful innovation strategies in the world. The cornerstone is the Innovation Council, an innovation-focused leadership group composed of the general managers across all functions in the enterprise.

Using analytics, the team zeros in on using technology and cutting-edge processes to drive three fundamental areas: customer intimacy, operational efficiency, and enterprise breakthroughs. It uses insights to adjust processes pre-flight (check-in), in-flight (passenger comfort, fuel efficiency), and post-flight (baggage claim).

Transferring Peak Performance to Customers

The council has driven a number of breakthroughs. Tablets are used for aircraft inspections, and to rapidly relay passenger information such as frequent flier info to cabin crews.

After studying the circadian rhythms of its crews to drive peak performance on long haul flights, the airline developed a wellness app tailored to its passengers. The objective: to reduce the debilitating effects of jet lag. Passengers enter criteria such as whether they want to sleep or work upon arrival. The app then suggests what passengers should do days before the flight (amounts of sunlight exposure, diet, and sleep), and at what points to eat and sleep in-flight.

But perhaps Cathay Pacific’s most innovative strategy is how the airline manages innovation itself. To drive sustainable innovation enterprise-wide, the council is headed by two leaders from divergent disciplines: IT director and the head of human resources.

The Human Factor

The thinking? Since innovation and technology touch every part of the organization and have big impacts on people, it needs to be facilitated across all business units. While IT transforms processes and tools, the HR director facilitates cultural change, staff engagement, and the adoption of an innovation mindset within the organization.

Cathay Pacific engages its employees on other levels, too. Through crowdsourcing tools, the airline harnesses thousands of its employees worldwide to generate insights on everything from passenger apps to operational efficiency. The campaigns run for six weeks with employees commenting and voting on each other’s submissions. The top 10 ideas are explored further. The process has the added bonus of facilitating employee recognition, a component that broadens and deepens participation.

Steeped in Innovation

The advantage of the Innovation Council is that it suffuses the innovation mindset across the enterprise, from end to end. Oftentimes, companies place a heavy emphasis on the customer experience. But this is a single vertical slot. Companies are also driving breakthroughs in operational efficiency, collaboration, products, services, and processes.

The Cathay Pacific Innovation Council effectively illustrates Insigniam’s successful strategy of fine-tuning the organizational senses for innovation. Cathay Pacific works innovation into the lifeblood of the enterprise from end to end, focusing on the human component as intently as the technology element. The airline harnesses innovation to drive a built-in completive advantage.

Result? Cathay Pacific was ranked one the world’s top three airlines by and has been named the “World’s Best Airline” in the annual Skytrax World Airline Awards. The carrier took the title in 2003, 2005, 2009, and 2014—the only carrier to capture the award four times. That’s the innovation edge.

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