Alex Goryachev,
Senior Director, Corporate Strategy and Innovation Group,
Cisco Systems



In this excerpt from the Manufacturing Leadership Summit Chronicles, Alex Goryachev shares insights and lessons learned about the necessity of disruption and shaping an  organizational  mindset focused on intelligent innovation. 


To keep pace with rapid changes in today’s digital age, every company must reinvent itself, disrupt its entire workforce and transform into a companywide culture of innovation. Innovation can come from anyone anywhere, and the most brilliant game-changers often bubble up from diverse employees with passionate ideas. Participants learned how to ignite a grassroots movement across all functions in organizations of any size or type to enable employees to think and act like entrepreneurs in a startup. 


  • Proven success factors to jumpstart an innovation revolution that drives an entrepreneurial mindset companywide
  • Award-winning, best practices that engage and inspire all employees to tap into their purposes, and bring winning ideas to life like collaborative entrepreneurs in a startup
  • Barriers to success, metrics, and lessons learned to sustain continuously improving innovation programs 


Prior to Cisco, Alex Goryachev worked at IBM, Pfizer, and Napster. Alex spoke about the business case for innovation, how Cisco innovates, and how to help employees connect with their passion and drive innovation. 


Today, if you don’t operate under the principle of ‘disrupt or be disrupted’ you are most likely setting your company up to fail. Forty percent of today’s Fortune 500 companies won’t exist in 10 or 20 years. Recent examples of once prospering but now defunct companies include Blockbuster, Circuit City, Lehman Brothers, Bear Stearns, and Kodak. All are no longer here. How did this happen? Big companies get comfortable because they are ‘old and wise,’ but develop tunnel vision.

Remember when there were taxis everywhere. And we couldn’t envision a world without them? Then Uber and Lyft came along and now they are practically gone. Now it’s an oddity to see one around town. The same principal applies to the phone, television and media. Now there’s Hulu, Nextflix, Skype, Facebook, Whatsapp. Retail stores have largely gone the way of Amazon. You have to ask, “Who’s going to own our space in the business tomorrow?”

…Disruption wins. 


Think about how all these factors feed into each other:

  • Market disruptors
  • Hyper connectivity
  • Speed of innovation
  • The lower cost of innovation
  • Access to funding 


Cisco innovates using a 5 Pillar Approach:

  1. Build
  2. Buy
  3. Partner
  4. Invest
  5. Co-develop

A key component of this 5 Pillar Approach is developing talent, which is vital. Also crucial is figuring out how to leverage the ideas of CEO’s from companies acquired. It is  about getting employees involved, which means co-developing. Cisco does this by providing access to tools at Cisco Innovation centers and/or encouraging employees to partner with universities.

It’s important for companies to think like start-ups but scale like enterprises. At Cisco, the goal is to empower all employees to innovate. This mandate is supported by human resources as well as corporate strategy. The philosophy is, let’s get everybody at the company to share ideas. When this happens, it stimulates a network of people who are passionate about something.

Cisco uses a Rapid Innovation Process:

  • Meet online
  • Employees call each other and talk about priorities
  • Ask for employee ideas
  • A 200 person team and 30 ideas move forward
  • If you are a part of those 30 ideas, you can see any executive at the company
  • Then they validate ideas with customers

Other Cisco take-aways:

  • They acquire a few companies every quarter
  • They partner with universities and start-ups
  • They invest in companies and accelerators
  • They develop innovation centers
  • They drive revenue through non-traditional means
  • They give structure and guidance to employees to innovate
  • They utilize practical trading – pair trades with customers on real problems
  • They foster non-traditional member relationships


  • Drive innovation
  • Innovation is survival…constant changes can be the norm
  • Ask everyone to play a role: founders, ‘angels’ 



  • Innovation Programs
  • Mentoring Programs
  • Rewards 


The reality is you can’t mandate innovation, but you can create an environment where employees can feel passionate about something. At Cisco, the trick to fostering an inclusive, creative atmosphere is to provide everybody with a role, a stake. At Cisco, you are a teacher or a mentor or a creative, designer…. This produces a culture where innovation is on everybody’s mind and everyone is invested and engaged.