Name: Joseph Bradley
Position: Vice President & Global Head, IoT Services
Company: Cisco Systems
Top Priority: “From our standpoint at Cisco, it starts with connecting dark assets,” he says. “That’s by far one of our biggest core elements.”
SCN: How did your early professional experiences lead you to your current position at Cisco?
Joseph Bradley: The thing that helped me get to where I am with Cisco is not about technology—it’s about people. The first role I had at Pacific Bell was in an advanced management program, and I’ll never forget it. One day the CEO came in and he says to me, “I know you’re good, no doubt—look at your resume,” but then he opened up the blinds behind him, there was this huge center, all these employees. He said, “The issue isn’t whether you’re good. It’s can you make those who are behind you good? Can you make them better—can you make them great?” I got a lot of experience from managing folks at that tech center, from managing folks in customer-facing roles, to managing staff, people in finance, operations, really learning how to connect with and motivate people.
Combine that with a strong curiosity to pick up and learn new technologies. Education isn’t about the fact that you learned; it’s about the act of learning. What do you do each and every day to improve your knowledge? I learned very early on that if you’re going to be great at something, you better know who the best in the world are, and learn to listen to them. Most people wake up every day and they turn the news and go about what they do. If you ask someone in tech, or whatever field they’re in, who are the top people in their field, they don’t know. If you want to be the best, if you want to continue to learn, you have to identify and learn from those best people, whether inside or outside your organization. You have to have a formalized way of doing that. So from Pacific Bell to C3 Communications and then back to Cisco, where I had the opportunity to do things at a larger scale, then back to the startup world at a bigger scale with Uptake, then back to Cisco—in each of those cases, connecting with and motivating people, stressing creativity for the art of the possible, and having formalized listening infrastructure were key for my success.
SCN: What are some things that have made your approach to innovation successful?
JB: People make a common mistake—they think innovation is invention. I always tell folks, innovation is invention plus execution. You have to have both to be successful. The funny thing about the two, though, is you can go get inventions. There’s already a lot of stuff that’s been done, that is sitting around, but they haven’t been able to execute it. Whether it’s MySpace to FaceBook, or it was Borders coming up with digital books and selling it to Amazon. Ideation is everywhere. The hardest part is that execution point. I run emerging technologies and IoT [Internet of Things] for Cisco, and I always tell my team we want to be able to see the value first, say it best, and make it count. Meaning you don’t have to know it first, but you have to be the first one that sees value in it. Then you have to be able to articulate that value, you have to get people around you to be motivated with the power of our suggestion, you have to get buy-in. You have to make it count. At the end of the day, you have to bring it to market and get some success.
SCN: That human element seems to be a big part of your work. How does it impact your thinking about IoT?
JB: It requires us to take a step back to understand how is value realized in any IT or technology deployment. Value is realized when you have something that’s valuable, so you identify the act, but it’s multiplied times its adoption. Value times adoption equals the impact of the technology you’re trying to drive. The people element is hugely important in terms of how can you make the technology work without them knowing it even exists. How can you implement things without changing their workflow? If you change workflow, it becomes increasingly hard to execute adoption. Think about Dropbox. Before, you had to load a separate client on your machine: “Oh my god, nobody’s storing in the cloud.” As soon as you say, “All I’ve got to do is do like I regularly do: click file, click save.” Boom! Everybody’s storing stuff in the cloud. The human element around technology is really understanding that value is realized when a person does something that they would not have normally done. They adopt your recommendation, and if it’s not adopted, then there’s no value.
I call myself a digital humanist. I fundamentally believe that value is created not by replacing the human spirit, but by augmenting it. If you think about the power we have and the complexity of the human mind, the ability for us to be creative and see things that we didn’t know existed to begin with, whether you’re talking about art or science or politics, the power of the human mind and creativity and ingenuity is unsurpassed. You see that in our ability to adopt. I think of it as an Iron Man suit. Technology is not going to replace you, but it’s going to make you smarter, faster, be able to do things you never thought before. When you put on an Iron Man suit, now I’m one times 50. That’s the power of what IoT and technology can make happen.
That’s the biggest challenge—if you don’t understand or value the people element. If you think about IoT, all you have to do is keep asking yourself, “Where is value created?” You will see that value isn’t created when you connect the physical thing, it’s not when you capture the data, it’s not when you take analytics and you change process. it’s only when you connect to people and they do something they would not have normally done, they change or make a decision differently, that’s where value is created.
SCN: How do you see the role of blockchain in IoT growing over the next few years?
JB: It’s not about securing things anymore. Security isn’t enough; you have to talk about trust. The assumption behind whether or not I secure something, my assumption is it is valuable, that’s why I want to secure it from a digital standpoint. Why do you believe it’s valuable? I believe data information is valuable because it’s correct. How do you know it’s correct? Well, you don’t. Enter blockchain.
Blockchain technologies, from an IoT standpoint, will be used to ensure data integrity. If insight is a currency of the 21st century, then you damn sure better make sure the source of that insight is correct. Blockchain gives you an ability to be able to do so. To me, that is where you’re going to see the value of blockchain really take off and be used, around establishing data integrity, ensuring that the data element I’m using has that the data as it moves from point to point to point, has not been changed or altered in any way.
SCN: What are some lessons you’ve learned that have had an impact on your career?
JB: One is to forget failing fast and slow, that’s a bunch of crap. Failing fast is having to tell someone every quarter, “You missed your numbers so we’re going to have to lay you off.” Failing slow is having that conversation every year. Both of them suck! What you want to do is improve your rate of learning. That’s number one. Focus on improving your rate of learning.
Number two: All things are important, but they are not equal. It’s very important to understand the importance and prioritize in the moment. As an example, most people talk about shareholder value, then they talk about the customers, then maybe they’ll talk about employees. You have to reverse the corporate value flow in the age of digital age. Value increases exponentially as data and decision-making moves closer and closer to the customer. So, the order of priority is employees first, they then take care of your customers, and as an output, you drive good financials. You can’t manage financials as an input. Financials is an output, it’s a result of ensuring my employees understand what I’m asking, give them the tools of success, and they then have to be trusted to proper decision making to drive value to the customer. If I’m successful at that, then I win the championship, and then it shows up on the financial side.
The third thing: Diversity is not enough. As a leader, it’s not enough that you simply have a diverse workforce. Having 10 people in a room and saying they’re diverse is great. But there’s no value created unless they have a voice, unless there is a level of high inclusion. Putting 10 people in a room and not listening to anybody and having one person talk all the time, that’s not an inclusive environment. Diversity is the potential to create value. The realization of value happens through full participation of that employee base. When you actually hear and listen, and you understand and you engage those ideas, that’s where value is created.