Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login

A large part of why the original Skunk Works was so successful is because Kelly Johnson, and later Ben Rich, did not care about outward appearances. They had a job and they did it (and they made it profitable). Here's a great book on the subject.


It could be the case that not caring about appearances is one of the best ways to optimize for appearance. Somewhat like men who don't care (or do not give the appearance of caring) what women think tend to get more women than men overly concerned with appearance, even though women judge men by appearance (including what non-physical traits they appear to possess).

Can you point to any press release that the secret skunk works facility published within a year of a failure? I don't recall any.

They did the closest thing they could - when a project failed, they killed it and refunded money to the government. In the defense industry, this is pretty rare (the F35 project is widely criticized as a failure by almost everybody that's ever used it but it's still going to get hundreds of billions of dollars in future funding). They could have said nothing, pretended everything was fine, and continued to siphon money from their customers but they decided to cut their losses early and maintain their reputation as an organization that gets things done on time and under budget. This got them a lot more contracts moving forward.

First, skunk works never refunded money to the government. There is at least one anecdote that they tried but the government accounting office had no way to receive the money back.

jayjay's initial comment was that the lack of PR was concerning, but then brings up a super secret facility that had no PR whatsoever as a counter example. The comparison just doesn't make sense.

But let's say that your claim is true, that skunk works communicated with their customer on a failed project. That still has no relation to a public announcement about a failed project. This was a self-funded project by Google, they are their own customer. The lack of PR about internal projects says nothing about their internal culture.

I've also reached the nesting limit, so this will be my last comment if only because the conversation is already difficult to follow.

Fair point about the creation of Skunk Works. I guess I was thinking more about the SR-71 and B2 which were wildly ambitious.

I guess history will tell the story of X as it's just too soon to call at this point. I'd love for them to be successful.

I think the comparison between Skunk Works and X is excellent. They're both moonshot branches of much larger companies that are meant to be free from bureaucracy. There won't be a perfect comparison, and obviously there won't be PR announcements for classified projects, but the point remains - focus on substance instead of appearances and you'll be much more successful. There's lots of evidence that Skunk Works had a great culture, but there seems to be little of that for X. In fact, there are numerous reports of people leaving X in the past year.

Agree to disagree, I guess.

Must have reached the nesting limit, can't reply to your other comment.

> They're both moonshot branches of much larger companies

Not at all! Skunk Works started with one single focused mission. To design a jet to compete with the German Messerschmitt! Yes, they did a lot of things differently to clear bureaucracy out of the way and get stuff done. But to call Skunk Works a "Moonshoot" branch is not correct at all. The definition of moonshoot includes not having an expectation of profitability. Lockheed saw a threat, saw a need, and saw huge potential for profits!

Guidelines | FAQ | Lists | API | Security | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact