Have you ever heard of the term skunk works? This odd sounding term is actually a type of technological project. Spearheaded by Lockheed Martin, the largest aerospace, defense, and security technologies company in the world, Skunk Works is a small group of people that create innovative aircraft technologies to make the impossible, possible. To find out more information about skunk works, read the rest of my blog below!

What is Skunk Works?

From the project’s first WWII-era fighter jets and spy planes to the satellites and missile defense systems of today’s space-age, Skunk Works, formally renamed as Lockheed’s Advanced Development Programs, has made quite a reputation for itself. Known for creating innovative projects at lighting speed, the project has inspired many engineers and business owners from around the world to recreate their business model to encourage and nurture innovation for years to come.

What is Skunk Works’ ideology?

Skunk Works is always looking towards the future, just like its founder Clarence “Kelly” Johnson. As an experimental engineer, Johnson and his team took an offbeat approach that favored breaking the rules for the sake of innovation. The same unconventional dogma is still in place today through a work culture that highly values lessons learned from bold mistakes.

According to the late Johnson, Skunk Works is determined to create technologies that are quick, quiet and of high quality. Today, these unique approaches earned the project seven Collier trophies, which is the highest award administered by the U.S. National Aeronautic Association.

Are there any big companies that created their own skunk works projects?

In the age of rapid innovation and abundant startups, many want to get in on the fun. That’s why many big-name companies are adopting Johnson’s unconventional ideology by creating their own “skunk works” projects.

For example, Google created their own division called Google X, where employees can work on separate projects. According to Fortune, Google X worked on a project to track health by exploring the potential of nanodiagnostics. In addition, some large companies — like Coca Cola, Lowe’s and Target — are jumping on the bandwagon by nurturing young companies through accelerator programs, which is a mutually beneficial relationship that partners startups with established companies to create groundbreaking discoveries.

Are you looking to create your own skunk works project?

Does the idea of building your own in-house innovation lab sound attractive to you? If so, you can follow the successes put forth by Kelly, outlined in this article by Fast Company. Some of the key takeaways are:

  • Have a small team of key people from your company work on side projects. These people should already display their ability to produce outstanding work, and should be able to handle their normal workplace duties in addition to their side projects.
  • Everything should be recorded thoroughly. Regardless if the experiment is a failure or a success, keeping detailed notes can help to improve the project in the future.
  • Access to the project should be prohibited from outsiders unless they are authorized.

To read more information about Skunk Works, visit Lockheed Martin’s website here.