Inworks is an initiative of the University of Colorado Denver │ Anschutz Medical Campus that draws together faculty, staff and students from across the two campuses, as well as entrepreneurs and leaders from industry, government, education and the community, to address problems of importance to human society. Our mission is to impart skills and habits of mind that allow people to collaboratively create impactful solutions to human problems. Inworks seeks to create innovative solutions to some of the world’s most challenging problems, while in the process creating life-long innovators.
Inworks: An Academic Skunk Works
Solutions to the hard problems that confront modern society generally require more than one kind of knowledge, and the knowledge needed to solve such problems is often to be found in a completely different domain than the problem itself. Interdisciplinary innovation is thus an essential tool for solving challenging problems, and an essential skill set for people entering the future workforce. Today’s college graduates will likely have more than ten different careers during their lifetime, and half of those jobs do not exist today. How should we prepare our students for careers that do not yet exist? How do we create an environment in which students learn and practice interdisciplinary innovation?
In 1943, Kelly Johnson of Lockheed’s Advanced Development Projects Division created a small, experimental organization where designers, engineers and “shop artisans” worked together to create revolutionary aircraft designs. The “Skunk Works,” so named because it was downwind from a noxious plastics factory, was known for its flat managerial hierarchy, the exceptional dedication of its workforce, and its uncanny ability to produce results on time and under budget. In return for these results, the Skunk Works enjoyed significant autonomy from routine organizational processes and bureaucracy. The Lockheed Skunk Works experiment was extraordinarily successful, and the term “skunk works” has entered the entrepreneurial lexicon to represent any project developed by a small and loosely structured group of people charged with the creation of something radically new. What would an academic skunk works look like? How can we constructively incorporate this approach into our teaching, scholarship and practice? Our answer was to create “Inworks,” a set of programs that actively facilitate interdisciplinary collaboration, promote innovation and entrepreneurship, and encourage risk-taking and leadership.