How does innovation happen? People joke about an idea hitting them in the shower. Or it might be while on vacation, or walking the dog—any time your mind is free to wander into creativity. But developing that lone spark of an idea into an innovative solution is no vacation. It requires focus, radical collaboration, and hard work.

Innovation doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It emerges from the crucible of colliding ideas, false starts, new iterations, and starting over. It requires an ecosystem of co-innovators who offer contrasting viewpoints, diverse skillsets, and the ability to put ego aside to refine and build on each other’s ideas. And it needs a venue and structure to facilitate the process.

That’s why Cisco developed CHILL—Cisco Hyper-Innovation Living Labs.

CHILL is an intensely focused innovation experience that is turning the traditional innovation model on its head. It brings together a select group of customers, vendors, designers, and hackers to solve a common industry challenge.

So far this may sound familiar—many organizations sponsor weekend hackathons or innovation brainstorms. And many companies co-innovate jointly with customers. The difference is, with CHILL we co-innovate with many customers at once. CHILL tackles large industry problems with a cross-section of large industry players. And then builds a new start-up from scratch to take a winning idea to market.

I come to work every day excited to lead the CHILL program. In less than two years, we’ve hosted four “living labs” centered on opportunities in retail, adaptive supply chains, blockchain applications to secure digital supply chains, and healthcare. At each event, I’ve been amazed at the breadth and creativity of the solutions that diverse teams create, build, iterate, and pitch to investors over a two-day period. So far, about 75 percent of CHILL innovations have been funded and are moving toward commercialization. The adaptive supply chain lab alone produced internal projects, spinouts, and joint ventures that we expect will generate $6 billion in new revenue and save $3.4 billion in costs for participants over the next 10 years.

One of the reasons for this success is the thought and preparation behind each living lab event. The process starts by identifying the “focus zone” and selecting innovation partners based on alignment of goals, market power, and resources. We then zero in on a single problem and define specific opportunity areas to work on. Each participating organization comes to the two-day living lab event with high-level executives, subject matter experts, and decision makers who can make on-the-spot funding commitments. They work in teams of four or five participants, plus hackers and builders who create round after round of rapid prototypes. The process is completely customer-centric, with end-users providing feedback all along the way. Finally, at the end of the second day, each team pitches its concept and investors decide whether to carry it forward to market.

This kind of multi-party innovation is designed to attack big, industry-wide challenges. And maybe it won’t stop with industry. As Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins said at a recent CHILL event, “I get excited because I believe we not only can work on important topics like securing digitized supply chains, we can also leverage technology and innovation to solve the world’s biggest problems—like hunger and homelessness—and to create opportunity for people who’ve never had opportunity before.”

That big vision is why I  am always looking for ways to promote this sort of industry-disrupting innovation. If you are planning to attend CiscoLive this month in Las Vegas, I hope you’ll join me on Wednesday, June 28, at 2:00 PM to learn more about how CHILL might work for your organization.  You’ll hear the first-hand Lab experiences of four recent CHILL participants: Richard Ebach, CIO of DB Schenker, and Brad Haczynski Managing Director at Intel, will bring a corporate partner perspective; Ian Lee from Citi Ventures is from the venture capital side, and Mike Jordan, acting CEO of Myways, will share the experience of a startup born in a Living Lab.

Come CHILL with us! Hyper-innovation is no vacation—but you might just find it’s a lot of fun.



Kate O'Keeffe

Senior Director

Customer and Partner Innovation