Northrop Grumman exec on how innovation, R&D, and business units can ‘increase awesome’

How do you build innovation muscle in a company already known for having serious R&D brawn?

That’s the challenge at companies like Northrop Grumman, which have historically relied on research and development divisions to supply breakthroughs for customers — but which want to find ways to innovate in other parts of their business, and make the overall company culture more accepting of blue-sky thinking and experimentation.

On a recent IL Live conference call, Kevin Parsons, the Director of Innovation and Transformation at Northrop Grumman, joined us to explain how his innovation group is influencing the culture and bringing business units into its process — without antagonizing the R&D folks.

Parsons has been at Northrop Grumman for 19 years, and he leads multiple change initiatives at the company, working closely with executive leadership to develop an environment and the capabilities to transform culture and drive breakthrough innovations. Northrop Grumman, with $23 billion in 2015 revenue, talks about its mission as “preserving freedom and advancing human discovery,” and among its products are the Global Hawk high-altitude drone, the James Webb space telescope, military radar, and cybersecurity software and services. (It’s also the company that developed the lunar module that carried Apollo astronauts to the surface of the moon.)

Parsons sometimes uses the phrase “increase awesome and decrease suck” to describe what his innovation team strives to do. “We need innovation everywhere,” Parsons told us. But “innovation isn’t limited to new technology and product innovation, although we like to focus on those. We need innovation to both get us new technology, new products, new business — that’s the increased awesome — as well as to drive affordability and efficiency and eliminate bureaucracy, and that’s the decrease suck.

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