Large companies are often associated with complexity, lack of speed, and even obsolescence. Creating a start-up like ecosystem deep within the bowels of a large company calls for disruptive people practices and non-linear improvements. It also requires a trade-off between current business priorities and future opportunities that may align better to our customer’s priorities and the technology strategy we wish to drive. This also helps us in creating avenues for co-development and innovation with our customers.
So, how do we make it happen? Falling back on my engineering roots helps me create an equation that explains it as:
Cisco f (x) = ex.
f(x) essentially represents building top talent, breaking silos, aligning behind speed and outcome, and driving joint innovation with customers focused on solving their biggest innovation problems. Linear investment in these can generate exponential results simply because all this happens in the context of a powerful, facilitating environment we call Cisco.
Cisco ‘alpha projects’ are a great example of valuing and generating innovation from within. Over the last two years, there are many alpha success stories. My team’s project focused on innovating and building products for hyper-scale infrastructure. This meant combining deep customer listening, cross-company collaboration, busting silos and bottlenecks with a team that represented the best networking talent, all at a tire burning and gravity-defying speed. Thus, our internal code name for this project was xSpeed.
The xSpeed alpha project disrupts our own product portfolio and processes in a significant way. This, in turn, forces us down a path of further innovation and new frontiers; frontiers that are broader than the current technology spectrum and promise exciting times for us engineers.
The classic Innovator’s Dilemma myth needs some busting. Large companies have the resources and the wherewithal to launch ambitious and innovative projects. Whether in the form of alphas, or acquisitions, within engineering we have been able to nourish and grow disruptive ideas with start-up-like agility while operationalizing them like a mature company.
The incumbent in every industry faces the highest level of pressure. And, in embracing disruption and often times disrupting ourselves, we ensure our relevance and leadership in an evolving ecosystem of contributors and competitors. With this approach, we create growth opportunities for our talent. This, in turn, gives us several breakthrough ideas to pursue across the spectrum of our business interests. So, really, who says innovation is only for smaller companies and start-ups?