Skunk Works Yourself

Dear Friends,
Our guest contributor this month is David Morey. Consultant, strategist, author, speaker, professor, and magician, David serves as the Chairman and CEO of DMG Global and Vice Chairman of Core Strategy Group. He has advised five Nobel Peace Prize winners and twenty-two winning global presidential campaigns. David has consulted companies including Apple, Coca Cola, Microsoft, and McDonald’s, and served as a professor at a number of prestigious universities. He was the winner of the Joseph Wharton Award in 2018 for lifetime achievement and leadership, and has authored four best-selling books.

Skunk Works Yourself

Here’s simple advice for all creatives, businesspeople, and magicians. Skunk Works yourself! Whether you’re escaping the center of a bureaucracy threatened by and ready to throw antibodies at your best creative ideas, or whether you’re extracting from the day-to-day tyranny of the urgent: Skunk Works yourself. Get out and off to a creative periphery – think sun, beach, secret house, resort or, well, Las Vegas. 

I do it once or twice a year. So did Bill Gates. So did Thomas Edison, who constantly “escaped” to his Menlo Park workshop, his Miracle Factory, to just try stuff – thinking, prototyping, and conducting ongoing mini-experiments. In my book, Creating Business Magic, written with the legendary Eugene Burger and my friend John McLaughlin, we recommend “disorganizing” your own innovation efforts…and even talk about Jeff McBride, the Water Bowls, and the Magic and Mystery School. 

Disorganize Innovation

“There’s something about the center of any bureaucracy – it’s as if the water tastes different there.” – Robert Shapiro

Scene: We are in the suburban Las Vegas home of Jeff McBride, one of the best magicians in the world today. Gathered here are some of the other top American magicians, taking a five-day Master Class sponsored by the world’s most famous magic school. In the desert heat, this select group comes together to hear lectures, try out new material, and endure more-or-less polite critiques. 

Most of all, they create new ideas in a professional magicians’ equivalent of the experimental “Skunk Works” that legendary aircraft designer Kelly Johnson led for Lockheed. Or think of it as akin to Steve Jobs’s famed “Mac Group,” set up in a Cupertino, California, strip mall, physically separate from official Apple HQ and topped by a Jolly Roger pirate flag. Today, imaginations are fired up inside an unassuming desert home, the very environment in which McBride synthesized the shamanistic roots of magic to create a totally new effect – the Water Bowls. 

Now take your mind outside the suburban house and into a great Vegas showroom. There, onstage, eerily lit from above, dressed as a shaman from an earlier age, McBride displays two metal bowls, obviously empty. Suddenly, in response to an ancient musical call, he looks up, appealing to the gods of water for their bounty. He asks, he prays. And the water comes, filling both bowls. He drinks it all, and then shows the bowls, now dry. McBride asks for more. Again, the bowls fill. He drinks. They fill again, and again, and yet again. It seems too much. Yet the bowls fill again. A thankful McBride accepts at long last the final drops. He says nothing, but the audience understands. The magic of life is good. 

The lesson: innovation and breakthrough happen outside the daily bureaucracy of our lives, and away from companies’ and organizations’ incumbent centers.
And check this video and chapter summary from my latest book, Innovating Innovation, to see how in the 1990s Bill Gates got away once or twice a year for his own “Think Week” or Skunk Works. Secluded cabin, no TV, no phones, and no emails. Gates only out-bounded ideas that he spent the day cooking up, leaving time out in this creative periphery, in his own Skunk Works, to just think – because thinking can be the most magical thing magicians can do.
So, fellow creatives, businesspeople, and magicians – Skunk Works yourself, and let the magic of imagination go to work!
David Morey

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