Speech Showcase: Social Networking at Cisco

“Everything we do is around Social Networking.”
– John Chambers, CEO, Cisco

Building the Next Generation Company: Innovation, Talent, Excellence

MIT World Lecture, Oct 15, 2008

Cisco CEO John Chambers gets Social Networking.

MIT reports:

In the 1990s, he predicted that networks would transform the way the world works, becoming platforms for communications and other IT, and Chambers placed Cisco at the center of that transformation. Today, he envisions a Web 2.0 premised on collaboration and social networking that will similarly transfigure all business life. Since 2001, he’s been positioning Cisco to catch this massive market transition, and indeed, is “betting the company’s future on it.”

In “phase two of the Internet,” says Chambers, “Content will find me; I will not search for it.” Any device, anywhere, will be able to receive any kind of content. We will be dealing with licenses for things like music, rather than worrying about compatibility issues between our digital tools and what’s streaming through them. Web 2.0 will also bring “effective collaboration,” by which Chambers means network-enabled visual tools, which will make “working together for a common goal truly possible.” Expect much faster business processes and revved up productivity, says Chambers.

Based on Cisco’s own experience in the past several years, organizations will completely restructure around these new capabilities. Indeed, he offers up his company as a paradigm of this vision. Once a hierarchical, command and control-based organization, Cisco is now much flatter, a company running “off of social networking groups.” Councils with cross-functional responsibilities suggest and take on many more projects (from emerging markets, to video, and smart grid boards); from one to two major ventures per year, to this year’s 26 launches. The next generation company is “built around the visual.” Cisco employees do non-stop teleconferencing with collaborators around the world. The company hosts 2500 such virtual meetings per week. It also employs Webex, Wikis and blogging to move work along.

With this kind of communication and carefully managed process to match, “operations can be turned on a head,” says Chambers. It’s the recipe for market-dominating speed and scale. Chambers is “loading the pipeline” with projects that assume other companies will want what Cisco has and makes. “If we’re right, we’re developing a huge wave of revenue opportunity.” Perhaps this is one reason why he’s “an optimist on global productivity, global economy and our ability to handle the challenges.”

This video supports the December 2008 Fast Company profile painting Cisco as a Revolutionary San Jose company – a socialist enterprise at the level of a democratized style of decision making; probably less so with compensation packages or an iron rice bowl.

Highlights of the video are when Chambers describes upper- and mid-level management resistance to the new culture of collaboration (17:40) and reveals that 20% of upper management left because they could not let go of the command and control mindset they learned in B-School (43:00).

Chambers reveals how the company used to be run by the top 10 executives who reported to him. Now it is the top 500 who make the decisions, soon to be the top 2,500 (24:00).

His evaluation of the effect of the radical introduction of Social(ized) Networking is that after a period of initial resistance, a balance has been achieved between command and control and self-managed boards and councils using collaborative technology (54:23).

The question, as Fast Company asked, is if Cisco-style collaboration really works elsewhere? They used to ask that about web pages and email when Web 1.0 was taking off in Silicon Valley. Would it play in Peoria? I’m not betting against Web 2.0. It’ll just take a little longer to catch on.

See Chambers in action and decide if these innovations are right for you.

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