Meet Bob Bennett, Kansas City’s New Chief Innovation Officer

Jan 11, 2016

The job summary is a little daunting: Kansas City seeks a creative thinker to find innovative and smart solutions to the city’s complex problems. No big deal, right?

For Bob Bennett, Kansas City’s new Chief Innovation Officer, it’s nothing he hasn’t seen before. His 24-year tenure in the U.S. Army afforded him plenty of daunting tasks. While he served in Iraq under General  David Petraeus, he developed interagency strategies between the military and aid organizations — something that neither institution is prone to do.

He hopes to continue with that collaborative environment in Kansas City. Freshly into his new job (he started Jan. 2) Bennett is already looking at what Kansas City will look like in the distant future.

“The total idea is to figure out how we’re going to lay the groundwork for the 22nd century.”

Bob Bennett spoke with host Steve Kraske about that groundwork on KCUR's Up To Date.

Here are some highlights from the interview:

On the what Smart City project will look like to to Kansas Citians

“There will be on the street lights in midtown ... sensors that will tell us essentially how many people are in an area, it will identify masses. So that in a future world, for the next World Series parade that we have here in Kansas City or for the Superbowl Parade, I could tell you that we need to surge bus traffic to a certain area, so that we can take care of more citizens that way.

"During that party we will have sensors inside the garbage containers — the super large areas, like those that Power & Light use. And when it reaches a certain level and we know that in the next hour or two it will come overflowing, a signal would go out and then the trash folks could come in and empty that particular receptacle.

“There are a whole lot of applications and, again, we're just starting to begin to understand how they can best apply to the city. By starting that discussion now and by working with the entrepreneurs and the innovators and the other cities who are out there, we're going to be able to better help build that infrastructure so that a hundred years from now when my great-grand kids are still hanging out here in Kansas City, they won’t look at us and say, ‘Why didn't you build fiber?’”

On the decision to return to Kansas City after leaving the army

“When we left the army, it was a case where we had lived in D.C., we had had that lifestyle, and it was great — when you're 20-something and you don’t have to worry about schools and you don't have to worry about those types of things. What we found here was a family element. A family element that expanded not just to those who were related to you by blood, but by those who were on our streets and in our neighborhoods and such. And that was something we wanted to come back to. And I'm seeing it in the business community too. You go down to Think Big, you go down to the Startup Village, the folks down there aren't competing with the other, they’re competing in a marketplace of ideas and they're literally trying to change the world. And the fact is, they just might do it."

On how working for General Petraeus helped prepare him for working for Kansas City

“[Mayor James] is better looking, and has a better looking tie. In addition to that, there are a lot of similar type people in these organizations. Very bright, very dedicated, very intelligent. In both General Petraeus' staff and mayor James' staff I frequently find myself never to be the smartest guy in the room. It’s being able to have that discussion with folks, have that meeting of the minds, and acceptance of an ultimate goal that we can all agree on, and then getting people to work toward it together and the collaboration environment.”

Lisa Rodriguez is an associate producer for KCUR's Up To Date. You can find her on Twitter, @larodrig.