KIN's Role as Force-Multiplier at Cisco Systems
“ A corporation is a living organism; it has to continue to shed its skin. Methods have to change. Focus has to change. Values have to change. The sum total of those changes is transformation.” Dr. Andrew Grove
Businesses face many tensions as they attempt to evolve their business models, particularly in industries experiencing disruption. To succeed, companies must manage interdependencies among strategy, enterprise architecture, capabilities, process development and organizational change. Increasingly, innovation leaders are seeking lessons from other industries to help them see things differently and develop distinctive, advantageous competitive approaches.
My personal path to expanding my understanding of innovation strategies, concepts and management skills came through my participation in the Kellogg Innovation Network (KIN). KIN Executive Director, Professor Robert C. Wolcott, founded the KIN in 2003 in collaboration with Professor Mohanbir Sawhney at the Kellogg School of Management. KIN is a meeting place for business executives and innovation leaders from across multiple domains and industries committed to on-going collaboration around understanding global trends and market disruptors, leading edge research, and novel solutions to growth. Through regular interactions, KIN participants have created a meaningful professional network around the practice of innovation and growth. The dynamic nature of KIN meetings and membership provides a unique lens through which Kellogg researchers are able to better define relevant and timely research problems based on real challenges facing today’s innovation leaders. Another unique adjacency from KIN is involvement of Kellogg and Northwestern University students who have opportunities to participate in competitions, judged and supported by KIN participants. Everyone contributes to a community of innovators directionally aimed at enhancing global prosperity.
KIN events balance expert presentations with panels and break out groups that encourage give-and-take and mutual learning. Programs leave ample time for informal discussions and social settings to build community. At every event, the arts play a key role. KIN Creative Director Jeffrey Ernstoff uses artistic performances to enrich and reinforce the themes of the event. The arts-related programs exemplify the links and dependent synergies between innovation as a creative activity, disciplined hard work, thoughtful analysis and practical practice. The artistic components of KIN events also reinforce the sense of community and challenge all KINians (as they are increasingly known) to apply both the creative and analytic capabilities of the brain.
KINians is a term of endearment, but also one that sets forth a standard and expectations of behavior from participants that builds on curiosity and professional accomplishments. KINians understand that they are expected to engage and support one another in order to get beyond the boundaries of their domain expertise and familiar ecosystems. The moniker and environment of KIN events also engender a sense of mission. Innovation is about more than corporate growth; it is also about solving meaningful challenges through cross-pollination and collaboration. Many KINians see “renewal”—letting their mind and heart breathe—as a major purpose for attending KIN events and engaging with the KIN Community.
For instance, during a presentation by Mike White, then vice chairman of PepsiCo and now CEO of DirectTV, a participant from a non-profit involved in disease prevention learned how soft-drinks delivered to the port in Dar-as-Salem are distributed to the far reaches of the country in only four days. During his presentation we learned from another participant it can take four months to distribute life-saving malaria medicine from the same port throughout Tanzania. The overlap of public and private challenges was immediate and profound to all in attendance. How could the public and private sectors work together to solve for broader problems of humanity was a key take-away from that KIN presentation.
Stephanie Pace Marshall, Founding President and President Emerita, Illinois Math and Science Academy, inspired participants with the innovation imperative for the education of our children. The nature and quality of how and about what our children think is the new “currency” for innovation: for critical and creative thinking, collaboration and human-centered design.
My most recent role at Cisco was focused on strategy, planning and decision support for the North American sales organization. Cisco strongly supported my attendance at KIN with the expectation that I would incorporate lessons from KIN events to share with the broader Cisco organization, partner community and customers. I have created, improved and delivered content and workshops to over 35 audiences (primarily to sales and customer support teams) in the past few years. My avocational role within Cisco effectively became that of a proactive evangelist for innovation history, concepts, trends, case studies, practice and thinking, thereby becoming a force-multiplier for the KIN community. The ultimate utility of interacting with various audiences is to educate and challenge status quo thinking, through introducing an awareness of the potential of innovation, provides context and sparks imagination for discovering new ways to create value.
The feedback from Cisco and Cisco partner audiences was that the shared content on innovation improved their individual and collective ability to position and deliver value of Cisco technologies by encouraging a deeper understanding of customers’ business problems and new thinking about framing those problems (and the problems behind problems). The feedback from Cisco customers was also powerful in understanding that Cisco technologies could provide the enablement of collaboration in a virtualized environment, thereby accelerating innovation initiatives. Cisco professionals began having new kinds of dialogues with customers, and parts of customer organizations with whom they would otherwise not have interacted, around value creation leading to novel solutions. Membership in the KIN community also allowed me to extend Cisco’s reach and presence to innovation professionals and identify areas of potential opportunity and relevance, as well as new partners across the business ecosystem.
Albert Einstein once said “the intellect has little to do with the road to discovery. There comes a leap in consciousness, call it intuition if you will, and the solution comes to you and you don’t know how or why.” Active KIN membership results in enriching the faculty for intuition in decision making, problem solving and value creation, reinforcing each participant’s unique abilities to lead innovation confidently, foster organizational change and achieve new possibilities. Dr. Wolcott calls this “synchronicity” in our context, and advises us to, “never leave serendipity to chance.” He concludes each salutation and meeting with the words: “to the future.” Individually and collectively, the KIN changes our world for the better.
Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series of case studies on Innovation Communities being created by the Kellogg Innovation Network here at Innovation Excellence. They would sincerely appreciate it if you would contact them if you know about INets that they should consider including in their database. If you’re a leader of an INet, they will invite you to join a gathering of INet leaders that they hope to arrange next year, to review the findings of the study and take this research to the next level: What are lessons to be learned in creating INets and making them successful? It’s kind of the meta-meta level. Innovation results are the base. INets are the first meta level, which is learning about how to manage innovation to produce results. And if we can form a network of INets, that will be about learning about how to produce powerful new learning environments.
To participate in KIN’s research, please fill out their data form and they will contact you!
image credit/additional info: www.kinglobal.org.
Michael Collins is a sales, strategy and business development professional with experience in both high-technology and healthcare industries. He has in-depth acumen in multi-level selling, business and strategy development, pricing strategy, competitive analysis, sales force enablement, executive relationship development and speaking on innovation concepts. Michael has made contributions at Cisco Systems, Baxter Healthcare, Motorola, Automed and Montgomery Ward in his career. He is a current member of the Kellogg Innovation Network and earned his MBA from the executive program at Kellogg School of Management. He currently resides in Chicago and has lived in Iran, Pakistan and Thailand.