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Cisco Innovators: Joel Bion Defining Innovation

Joel Bion's career spans two decades at Cisco with innovation at the heart of what he does. Listen to how Bion defines innovation, in his own words.

September 13 , 2011

Joel Bion's career spans two decades at Cisco with innovation at the heart of what he does. Bion leads Cisco's Research and Advanced Development organization where he works to identify new technologies. Bion was the first manager of technical support and set many elements of Cisco's customer-first culture that continue today.

The Network: What is innovation?

Joel Bion: Innovation is something you do. It's not something you talk about. That's the way a colleague of mine defined innovation at a meeting recently and it's very close to what I believe.

When we talk about innovation, it's not something you can buy more of at Fry's Electronics if you're running low on it.  And to that point, you can't say, "I'm giving you 4 hours to innovate today, what's happened?"  It just doesn't happen like that.

The important thing about innovation is that it has to be a clever, industry leading, inspired, set of solutions to problems, either clearly or dimly understood, that have strong applicability for today and tomorrow's customers.

That's relevant innovation.

TN: How does Cisco innovate?

JB: Customers are critical to certain phases of our innovation.  First of all, it's only when engineers meet the customers, work with them, engage with them, that we begin to understand what kind of problems are they facing, and will be facing in the years ahead.  This information allows us to reach for and develop solutions for them.  If we try to develop innovation without the customers in mind, without a familiarity with the customers, we can often be off target.  So customer involvement is key.

The customers aren't necessarily the definers of our innovation.  Often times they will come up with a short term solution, when, perhaps, Cisco can come up with a solution that's more general, or more applicable to a large number of markets.  But a familiarity with the customers and their needs and their expectations is crucial to relevant innovation.

If we're the best at understanding the needs of the users of the network, the needs of our customers, we can take that, extend it, and challenge our customers for better uses of the network.

Remember, the best companies are those that stimulate ideas. The best companies aren't the ones just with the product.  Successful companies are the ones who can carry forward an idea and continually produce the best solutions.

Related Tags: Cisco Culture , Innovation , Innovators

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