Skunk Works logo on Museum’s SR-71. Photo #2005-6014 by Dane Penland, Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.

Skunk Works: 14 rules to live and die by

Reda Sadki Innovation, Quotes

Lockheed’s Skunk Works may be one of the earliest models for sustaining innovation inside an organization – never mind the nefarious mission of making flying machines to kill people. These are the basic operations rules enunciated by founder Kelly Johnson in 1954, as cited in his successor Ben Rich’s book: The Skunk Works program manager must be delegated practically complete control of his program in all aspects. He should have the authority to make quick decisions regarding technical, financial, or operational matters. Strong but small project offices must be provided both by the military and the industry. The number of people having any connection with the project must be restricted in an almost vicious manner. Use a small number of good people. Very simple drawing and drawing release system with great flexibility for making changes must be provided in order to make schedule recovery in the face of failures. There must be a …

Wire (Kendra/

What does it mean to broker knowledge in a network?

Reda Sadki Learning strategy

Our network function requires that we interact with the network. We observe profound changes in the nature of knowledge, how it circulates, and this affects how we work (learn). Members in the network, too, have changed. We struggle to keep up with and adapt to these changes. In working with them, we prioritize results against their own expectations as well as those of donors and governments. Hence, it is difficult to justify learning approaches that take us away from such priorities. We wish for time after delivery to reflect on lessons learned, but such wishes may be swept away by the next urgent task. The alternative to this frustrating cycle of task delivery at the expense of reflection is to adopt a knowledge brokering approach. We broker knowledge when we link learning with innovation in the context of the long history of work done by the network. When trying to …

Rusting away along the river Congo (Julien Harneis/

Emergencies kill learning habits

Reda Sadki Learning strategy

We recognize that large-scale, complex emergencies have a dramatic impact on many aspects of our work, including what and how we learn. Some may feel, based on experience, that emergencies kill learning habits. We put everything on hold – including the things we do to stay current – to focus on the emergency response. However, the disruptive power of emergencies and their intensity fosters new, informal learning and provokes incidental learning indispensable to solve new problems in new ways. That is real-time innovation. Therefore, because emergencies and the change they bring are a constant in our work, we need to harness their disruption and intensity to ensure that lessons are learned and applied – before, during, and after. This requires new approaches, tools, and a change in mindset. We need to retain not only what we learned, but also how we learned it. Photo: Rusting away along the river Congo (Julien Harneis/

Young man at a vocational education and training center, Marrakesh, Morocco. © Dana Smillie / World Bank

Making humanitarians

Reda Sadki Learning strategy, Thinking aloud

The industry to tackle growing humanitarian and development challenges has expanded rapidly since the mid 1990s, but not nearly as fast as the scope and scale of the problems have spiraled. Professionalization was therefore correctly identified as a major challenge of its own, with over a decade of research led by Catherine Russ and others clearing the rubble to allow the sector to make sense of what needs to be done. The bottom line diagnosis is a now-familiar litany: a shortage of people and skills, lack of quality standards, inability to scale. Despite the growth of traditional university programs to credential specialized knowledge of these challenges and how to tackle them, young people armed with multiple masters find that they really start learning upon entering their first NGO. They face a dearth of entry-level positions (sometimes spending years as “interns” or other forms of under-recognized labor) and discover professional networks closed to them …

MAVEN Atlas V Launch

A question of such immense and worldwide importance

Reda Sadki Thinking aloud

Scale: Predictions over the impact of climate change and globalization suggest that we will see more frequent disasters in a greater number of countries, along with more civil unrest in those states less able to cope with this rapidly changing environment, all generating a greater demand for humanitarian and development assistance (cf. Walker, P., Russ, C., 2012. Fit for purpose: the role of modern professionalism in evolving the humanitarian endeavour. International Review of the Red Cross 93, 1193–1210.) Complexity: The world’s problems are characterized by volatility, uncertainty, and complexity in a knowledge society. The industry to tackle these growing challenges has expanded rapidly to become increasingly professionalized, with a concentrated number of global players increasingly focused on the professionalization of more than 600,000 paid aid workers and over 17 million volunteers active worldwide in UN agencies, the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, and the main international non governmental organizations (INGOs). …