The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (known as DARPA, inventor of the EARLY Internet and email idea) looks for ideas in all sorts of places. In an interview with The Wall Street Journal (6 June 2011), the current director, Regina E. Dugan, talked about how the organization tries to keep new ideas coming in. To keep new perspectives and fresh ideas coming, DARPA hires project managers for 3-5 years – from universities, from small and large companies. The projects have a specific focus – like understanding what it means to detect land mines – and by bringing in people from different backgrounds for a short time frame, DARPA gets new ideas on a regular basis. One project, for instance, is to “hijack” the protein-production capability of a tobacco plant, purify it and use it for vaccine proteins (and future applications for pharmaceuticals or food related products).
How could other companies do that? Would people want to join a Micron or a start up for 3-5 years on a specific project? With job security becoming even less sure, the idea of more people becoming free lance employees, project based is even more expected. Daniel Pink predicted this in his book, Free Agent Nation, long ago – have we reached that stage? I’ve told my students for years not to expect a job, that they need to create their own jobs. Is there one for “creative project manager!?”