The Interaction between Technology, Progress and Economic Growth
Edited by Terrence E. Brown and Jan Ulijn
Chapter 6: Skunk works: a sign of failure, a sign of hope?
Terrence E. Brown INTRODUCTION Organizing for innovation has become a key business objective. Of the many organizational innovations to emerge, one of the most well known is the skunk works. The evidence, at least anecdotally, is that great innovations are often the result. Skunk works are seen as business at its most innovative. However, this chapter begins by taking a slightly diﬀerent view that the creation of a skunk works is often a signal of management dysfunction. Furthermore, not only does the creation of a skunk works signal management dysfunction, but also may even accelerate the dysfunction. However, the chapter does not stop there. The skunk works concept and practice is actually confused, complex and misunderstood. The term ‘skunk works’ covers a wide range of innovation entities. As a result, this chapter attempts to begin to deﬁne, clarify and structure the concept. I use the term skunk works-like as a generic term to represent the widely used and (well?-) known management of innovation concept, especially through most of the beginning of the chapter. However as the chapter develops, some clarifying distinctions are made. HISTORY OF THE NAME The confusion over the skunk works concept starts right at the beginning with misunderstanding of origins of the name. The Wrong Story Harry Newton (2001) of the Newton’s Telecom Dictionary claims that because the skunk works team work so much or so intensely that they see neither sunshine nor soap, hence the name ‘skunk’, the night-time active, stench-squirting animal. He...
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