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Beyond brainstorming: 4 cool action items hatched from Cisco ideation session

Beyond brainstorming: 4 cool action items hatched from Cisco ideation session

Bringing developers together, recruiting more women engineers among ideas from Cisco Founders Forum members

Matt Cutler, whose startup Cisco bought three years ago, found himself moving from an outfit with eight people to one with tens of thousands. He looked forward to accessing resources beyond his reach at, but was wary of being able "to get stuff done" within the larger organization.

One way he’s been able to get stuff done is through Cisco’s little-known Founders Forum for the entrepreneurial leaders of companies it has acquired. Passionate about the sort of modern workstyles and design thinking (and "a lot of sticky notes") he incorporated at his startup, Cutler recently volunteered to lead a break-out ideation session in an effort to extract great ideas from his peers in the Forum. That of course could be easier said than done when dealing with a large group of intelligent, highly opinionated people.

“I raised my hand and said I’ll do this, I’ll model the change and lead this,” says Cutler, whose brother Adam is a design thinking leader at IBM. "It's in the family, it's in the blood."

MORE: Cisco Founders Forum-- One creative way to keep & energize talent | Meet Cisco's Founder Forum members

One of the beauties of such modern workstyles is efficiency, Cutler says, and the ideation session took just 90 minutes to produce four solid takeaways, which he shared with me:

A confab for internal Cisco developers

Cisco has an annual event for its sales force known as GSX (Global Sales Experience) that Cutler says is great.  “But there’s nothing equivalent for our development community,” he says. “So we have tens of thousands of developers who don’t meet together regularly. We have small things, but not large events for… sharing ideas and creating community.”

A working group is being formed to focus on creating some sort of GSX for developers. Judging from the popularity of events such as Apple WWDC and Google I/O mainly for external developers of those companies, there’s no doubt that developers like to bond, and you’d think that this would be true of those within Cisco. 

Increasing diversity

“There’s a strong opportunity to drive greater diversity in engineering recruiting with a particular focus on recruiting women,” Cutler says.

One idea on this front is for Cisco to leverage the growing number of outside events that are specific to female engineers (i.e., the annual WITI Summit).

Budgeting for innovation 

“Our annual budgeting process today works in such a way where members in the room felt it was often innovative projects that had high potential but hard-to-quantify short-term outcomes that would get de-prioritized,” Cutler says.

The idea is to make an explicit effort to include innovation in Cisco’s annual budgeting cycle to ensure such projects are protected to some degree.

Defining design at Cisco

“The one I'm most personally passionate about and will be leading is defining Cisco design," Cutler says.

In other words, what does capital “D” design mean at Cisco in a way that Apple (industrial design), Facebook (social design), Google (information design), Microsoft (platform design) and Salesforce (cloud design) have established design at their organizations? 

“We see a big opportunity to coalesce and distill Cisco design,” Cutler says. “The concept of Cisco design seems impossibly big because there are so many products across so many areas so how could you pick one cisco design.” But thinking more broadly, Cutler says his “hypothesis is that Cisco’s design center revolves around connectivity,” and that this is what partners such as Apple, IBM and Salesforce respect about Cisco.

“It’s early and there’s a lot of work to do to get alignment and define that, but that’s what I’m working on,” he says.

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