My good friend Robert Brook – one of the most active and entertaining people I follow on Twitter – was recently interviewed by Chris Dalby, and it was caught on video.
In it, Robert discusses the work he does at the UK Parliament as a ‘skunkworks’ – for those that don’t know, this is:
typically developed by a small and loosely structured group of people who research and develop a project primarily for the sake of innovation
Sounds like fun. The origin of the phrase is from Lockheed Martin, in case you are interested.
This way of fostering innovation and getting things done – by taking it under the radar – is an interesting one and something I have heard from others, who have spoken about organisations having a ‘splinter-cell’ for social media, or describing innovative web stuff being done as ‘black ops’.
It ties in with a lot of the stuff that Cisco’s Guido Jouret said at the Cisco Public Sector Summit that I covered late last year. Some of the things that can stife innovation in large organisations, said Guido, include:
- too much money – projects lose focus
- too much time – projects drift
- too many people – not everyone believes in the project as much as they need to
- too much love – people get too attached to failing projects and
- too much hate – jealousy elsewhere in the organisation kills projects
As a result, innovation projects have limited budgets, timescales, small teams, spend a lot of time in ‘stealth mode’ (skunkworks?) and people on teams are kept close.
A lot of the good work that goes on in the public sector with the web happens on the quiet, guerilla style. If thing are really going to change, then this needs to stop and we need these projects out in the open, not to have people worried about talking about them openly.
However, that needs a culture shift and it might not happen soon. In the meantime, we need to get stuff done, and if it has to happen in a skunkworks style, then so be it.