Commentary: Making innovation personal

August 25, 2013

Occasionally, we publish blog posts, speech transcripts and other commentaries of interest to the Washington business community. Here’s a blog post from the chief executive of Lockheed Martin that recently appeared on LinkedIn.

In 1943, with the Allies racing to maintain a technological advantage in World War II, aviation legend Kelly Johnson and his team at Lockheed’s Skunk Works designed and developed the P-80 Shooting Star in just 143 days. America’s first jet fighter was the result of innovation with purpose.

More than 70 years ago, Kelly got it right. When purpose drives innovation, great things happen. Today, innovation with purpose is still what makes Lockheed Martin unique.

Purpose is important. I often tell my team: If you want to reach great heights, start with a great purpose.

Have a goal that’s bigger than just meeting a deadline or closing a sale. It’s human nature to want to make a lasting impact ... to do something meaningful and enduring.

Good leaders organize and align people around what the team needs to do. Great leaders motivate and inspire people with why they’re doing it. That’s purpose. And that’s the key to achieving something truly transformational.

What’s our purpose at Lockheed Martin? We innovate to help our customers tackle some of the world’s most pressing challenges. We strengthen global security, advance scientific discovery, and deliver essential services to citizens.

Yet innovating with purpose isn’t just for companies. There’s a personal application that’s necessary for advancing a career. Ask yourself: What drives me? What kind of contribution do I want to make? Define your own, individual purpose. Then ask: What skills do I need to learn? What professional experiences do I need to have? How can I get the most out of the talented people in my group?

In short, ask yourself the most important question you may ever ask: How can I innovate myself so that I’m achieving a purpose that benefits my organization and is fulfilling to me?

This is an important question. When innovation with purpose becomes a fundamental part of your career, your professional life will have a tighter focus and clearer direction. The questions you ask and the answers you discover will take you in directions that wouldn’t otherwise be possible.

At Lockheed Martin, our purpose has driven us to branch out into new domains to help our customers rise to ever-evolving challenges. The same thing applies to you and me.

Once we define and embrace our purpose, personal innovation is so much easier.

My professional purpose is to help my company be the absolute best it can be. So, for the first time in my career, I’m sharing ideas through social media. I’m innovating. And I’m innovating with purpose.

Think about those skills that will help drive your purpose. They may be advanced software or computer skills, advanced relationship skills, or specific operational knowledge. These skills may not be required in your current position. That’s OK. Make time to learn them, and start now.

Innovate with purpose, and, like Kelly Johnson, you just might open breathtaking new opportunities for career success.

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