John Chambers joined Cisco in 1991, it had 400 employees and $70 million in revenues, when he left in 2015 after 20 years of being CEO, the company had $47 billion in revenues and Cisco is the backbone of the internet. Along the way, Cisco acquired 180 companies and beat out its competitors. How did he do it and can you learn something from Mr. Chambers? The answer to learning is yes and reading his book Connecting the Dots by Hachette books, NY, 2018 will help.
Chapter 2 is called Act like a Teenager and Think Like a Dyslexic. What does that mean? Mr. Chambers has met many people starting out in business and the thing that impresses him is their curiosity and ability to handle multiple random data points as well. They have visions, but can move from one topic to another at lighting speed.
Teenagers do not believe in incremental change, they want to disrupt the status quo and generally believe they can change the world.
4 responsibilities of a CEO: (1) to set the vision and strategy of the organization; (2) to develop, retain and replace the management team to execute the vision and strategy; (3) to create the culture; and (4) to communicate all of the above,
How well it is done it is the critical aspect to any company.
The No 1 driver in how we developed products and grew our business was and always should be our customers. If we did not give them what they wanted or needed, plenty of competitors would have happily stepped in to serve their needs instead. Cisco’s success was about trying to understand where the market is going and working with customers to get there. You compete against market transitions, not against other companies.
First step – collect data from a wide variety of players. Collect data from customers, study competitors, seek out disrupters, and look at pertinent factors to get a sense of the big picture. Then zoom in on a few points to see what is moving the needle, pick some options to explore and check in with customers. Once you understand how the market is changing, you can develop the right product and strategy for where the world’s going to be. The facts are usually all there to let you see the big picture.
It is hard to connect the dots if you do not know where to look or whom to trust. The first step is focus on the big picture and the possible end result. Look at where are the clusters? are common themes emerging? What matters is the trend and links that your find. Pay attention to broader shifts in the market, especially where 2 or more are related, and seek out more data or experts to fill in the gap. The challenge is to figure what matters. What is signal and what is noise? You need to stay calm and seek multiple perspectives particularly from customers.
Data might not tell you why something is happening, but it does tell you what is going on.
Remember most of talk to people who think like us, you need to talk to people who do not cross your path everyday. It is easier to spot opportunities and changes when you are on the outside. Teenagers for example, have limited power, so they are more inclined to look beyond the people in charge. There has to be some discomfort to be creative.
How do you walk into an unfamiliar situation and connect the dots? The short answer is you prepare. Mr. Chambers uses a briefing book – bios of the people I was scheduled to meet, data on what Cisco was doing for that client or community, background clips related to Cicso’s presence in the community, observations from the local team, summary of the objectives for the meeting, and any other material. This allowed Mr. Chambers to better tailor his insights to connect with whom he was talking to.
If you really want to learn, let your guard down and be humble. To get to the CEO’s spot you have to be confident, but remember there is always someone smarter in the room.
Linking to dividend paying stocks, for the companies you invest in, your will tend to read the reports more, you might even meet some or all of the executive team, do you believe they embrace curiosity? How did the person connect with you?
There are more questions than answers, till the next time – to raising questions.