I never would have thought that someone with my point of view would be a valued member of a large corporate tech powerhouse like Cisco. Yet, almost two years to the day – and here I am! As a member of the Cisco Hyper Innovation Living Labs team (CHILL for short) my team is all about driving disruptive innovation with some of Cisco’s biggest customers, and I love that Cisco fuels this innovation with a diverse group of people who have varying skillsets, backgrounds, and cultures.
Innovation happens at the intersection of two different disciplines coming together. When disparate things collide, it causes a spark, and from this spark we can often see disruptive ideas emerge.
Diversity is the key. If the same types of people were always involved in the same projects, then there would be best practice sharing and we’d see solutions developed that are incremental – which is great. But by infusing a diverse range of people to those projects – different ideas and perspectives about the same industry begin to flow and help to create transformation.
The same principles are applied to the team I work in. We all have very different and diverse backgrounds. It’s attitudinal diversity at its best. I don’t come from an innovation background but I do have strong project management and administration experience which helps in recognizing and bringing new ideas, processes and pathways to life.
My colleagues, likewise, have different strengths which they bring to bear, and all of our diverse strengths create layers for the ultimate team foundation.
Through our own unique life experiences we have come to cultivate different point views. Whilst we all follow the same team vision and want to be successful we naturally have varied ways of approaching situations. This encourages innovation! If the team all thought the same and acted the same we’d never be pushed outside our comfort zones. Yet, we are constantly pushed because of our diverse backgrounds and the exposure to a different way of thinking, or doing, or being.
These differences also impact the experiences we provide for Cisco and customers alike. We are changing the conversations we are having about innovation. We are demonstrating that we can move quickly, and that it’s okay to fail so long as we use it to guide us forward.
To help fuel innovation in your team or with your customers here are some pieces of advice that have become my mantra:
Ideation is a democratic process – Your previous experiences are uniquely valuable, but when ideating in a team allow each participant and their inputs to be equally appreciated. You should be looking for intersections in experience as it’s on this frontier where disruptive ideas are born.
Prepare to pivot – “The road to success is dotted with many tempting parking spaces.” Your intent should be to stretch into uncharted territory, so staying open and responsive to new information is essential.
Trust in the process – Most ideation requires facilitation to keep the work on track, but chaos is expected and most (man-made) disasters have been anticipated and prepared for. Trusting in this process may take some getting used to, but it is very much worth it in the end.
Kill (ideas) when you can build. Inventive thinking happens in layers – so fuse ideas or peel them back and save them for later. Just because something may not work in this moment, for this project does not mean that it will not be a great layer for your next innovative trial.
Take a Back Seat – Your presence within your team is necessary to the shared goal and chances of success – be active and participate! Remember that no idea is a bad idea, and every thing can be expanded upon to make better.
Cisco alone cannot solve all of the larger industry challenges, but if we bring together an ecosystem representing a whole industry then we can create a number of intersections and watch ideas bubble up to the surface. From there our diverse backgrounds and experiences can build upon the great ideas of today for a more promising future in tomorrow.