Who best to comment on your workplace abilities than those you interact with on a daily basis?
Categories that the survey questions covered included: customers, shareholder value, people, teamwork, excellence, commitment, innovation, achieving the vision, empowerment, and providing personal leadership. The data collected and the subsequent analysis of me was revealing. One area where I excelled, just as Nortel began implementing the $150 million US WEST Network 21 contract that I was key in winning, was innovation.
I never thought of myself as the most innovative person, but my persistence in finding the best customer solution certainly led me and our outstanding cross-functional team to be innovative. The act of tactical innovation, day in and day out, certainly leads to strategic wins over competitive offerings, as Fujitsu found out in 1995.
“Encourages the development of bold, creative ideas,” delivered a “highly satisfied” response from all respondents in my personal assessment, save one. (I wonder who it was?) The resulting metric from such high praise put me in the highest percentile possible and gave me pause. The challenge for me, and for anyone in the high-tech arena faced with encouraging bold ideas, is to make sure these ideas resonate with customers or users, otherwise the bold idea is useless (at least in the business context).
I experienced this challenge over “big and bold” innovation play out again at Cerent. In my book, The Upstart Startup: How Cerent Transformed Cisco (2014), I wrote how “Mike [Hatfield] stubbornly challenged Vinod [Khosla] as to why he had to make a telecom-based product bigger and bolder than it needed to be. Mike was proven right. The Cerent 454 as he saw it was big and bold enough to be successful in the [telecom] marketplace. Cerent’s customers thought so. Cisco thought so. And Cerent’s competitors thought so.”
A fine line has to be walked in finding the right big and bold idea and bringing it to the marketplace versus upsetting your superiors. If you believe in the product conceptualization, as Mike did, you sacrifice yourself and move on to take on a new role at a new company, which Mike did.
When I saw the product conceptualization for the first time during my interview with Cerent in July 1998, I became a believer. It was exactly the solution service provider customers needed to support their optical transport needs in order to accommodate Internet traffic growth.
In a view of the world, where history is prologue, I witnessed how Mike and Ajaib Bhadare, his cofounder, had been encouraging the development of bold, creative ideas in all aspects of the product and company’s development. The Cerent 454 appeared to me, to be a fine piece of engineering that would resonate with customers. In retrospect, the Cerent 454 resonated with me instantly because it was exactly the kind of big and bold idea I would have encouraged my team to work on at Nortel during the 1990s. Alas, that company’s organizational architecture was unable to even conceive of such a bold idea, as it was structured around optical transport bit rates instead of the most cost-effective, holistic transport solution for its customers.
In less than two years after its introduction, the Cerent 454 OC-48 configuration replaced Nortel’s S/DMS TransportNode OC-48 product as the leading solution across North America for all 2.5 Gb/s deployments in 2000.
Big and bold indeed, I’d say, “Audacious!”