By Steve Kelman

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The Lectern: Interesting interview with Cisco CEO

The November issue of the Harvard Business Review has a fascinating interview with John Chambers, the chief executive officer of Cisco Systems. In particular, two features of the interview caught my eye:

1) He stated that the biggest shift he is currently seeing in the business/organizational landscape is "the shift to a more collaborative world."

He went on to say that "I believe that only those companies that build collaboration into their DNA...will succeed. ...At Cisco, our major priorities are managed not by our top five to 10 executives but instead by cross-functional, collaborative councils and boards."

I have regularly been teaching in my executive education classes over the last few years about the efforts in government to move from a stovepiped environment to a more cross-functional one. It is apparent from those classes that lots of experimentation, and different forms for bringing about collaboration but also dealing with the dangers that can arise from eliminating stovepipes (loss of expert knowledge, possible elimination of control checks and balances), is occurring in government. Web 2.0 is clearly an enabler, culturally and in other ways, here. It was noteworthy that Chambers regarded this as a major trend in corporate America.

2) He discussed a contest for people from anywhere in the world to submit ideas for emerging technologies that Cisco might pursue. The winner would get $250,000 and a job at Cisco to help develop the idea. Chambers noted that the contest produced 1,100 submissions from 104 countries, thus demonstrating its ability to bring forth significant effort on behalf of Cisco's goals at an extremely modest cost to the organization. This is similar to the approach DARPA has used in its Grand Challenge to develop a better all-terrain vehicle. It is a sad testimony to the current risk-averse procurement environment that more agencies aren't taking this up as a procurement approach. DHS take note? An idea for the new Obama administration to pursue?

What do you think? Post a comment (registration required) or send an e-mail to and we will post it for you.

Posted by Steve Kelman on Nov 12, 2008 at 12:10 PM


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