It’s pretty clear that Cisco is serious about the principles of connectivity and collaboration put forth during Networkers. I just got back from Orlando and discovered both a Twitter and a Facebook connection invitation from two different Cisco employees. I also don’t think I’ve ever sent or received so many text messages in my life as during the conference. But more on that later.
I wanted to write a little about Cisco CTO Padmasree Warrior‘s keynote address, which took place Wednesday. Warrior opened by recounting the legend of how, while taking a bath, Archimedes invented his method for measuring the volume of an irregularly shaped object. Supposedly, the great mathematician had to come up with a way to measure the purity of a golden crown, and realized during his bath that submerged bodies displace an amount of water equal to their volume. Then, versions of the legend claim, Archimedes leapt from the tub and ran naked through the streets, shouting “Eureka! I have found it!”
Warrior went on to explain that while we can’t discount this idea of the lone genius having a sudden spark of inspiration, she believes that “ideas get stronger when shared” and that collaborative, collective genius is the way humanity will persist.
She also talked about a phrase she has coined, “brainforming,” which is her take on brainstorming. Without getting very specific about how technology would enable brainforming, Warrior explained that in brainforming, we start to select ideas while we collect them. Collaboration, she said, should be a culture, not a function, and is going to become a persistent global conversation.
Of course, innovation and collaboration aren’t worth much without execution, and Warrior emphasized that in her keynote as well, saying “I strongly believe that without execution, there is no vision.” Her words echoed those of another great inventor, Thomas Edison, who once said that “Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration.”
Now, I have to admit that I’m a fan of the genius in the bathtub idea, and don’t put too much stock in group intelligence. We all have seen the unfortunate products of “design by committee,” which seem all too prevalent in both computer software and business culture — ideas that lack focus, products that are needlessly complex, unproductive meetings that only spawn more meetings, and so on.
I was thinking about the example of Linux creator Linus Torvalds this morning. On one hand, Torvalds basically came up with Linux one day in his bedroom in Finland — supporting the “bathtub” model of genius. On the other hand, Linux didn’t become what it is today until Torvalds put the fledgling OS out there and let the open source development community hack away — supporting the collaborative model.
I discussed Warrior’s keynote with two attendees: Brad Fox, a network manager and security engineer at Black & Decker, and Peter Perreault, senior network engineer at Tullett Prebon (a financial inter-dealer broker). Peter put things into perspective by saying that even if there’s a lightbulb going on for the guy in the bathtub, great ideas are always built on the shoulders of giants — so collaboration technology, at its best, perhaps gives that genius a larger pool of giants to draw from.
Brad said, “Just don’t take your laptop in the bathtub.”