How Cisco Encourages Everyone To Innovate (All The Time)

February 14, 2019, 12:00 PM UTC

A few months before Chuck Robbins took over as CEO in 2015, Cisco (No. 6) conducted a series of focus groups to solicit employee feedback. A consistent theme: People felt they simply couldn’t get ideas in front of decision-makers.

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Within months, the IT networking giant created a forum for just this purpose. Cribbing from Shark Tank, the company launched a global pitch contest called the “innovate everywhere challenge.” People could submit ideas or sponsor others’ proposals with virtual “venture tokens.” Through multiple rounds, thousands of contenders are whittled down to six finalists who fly out to San Jose to vie for the backing of bosses and real investors. Grand prize: $50,000 in cash and seed funding, plus mentorship.

One winning team came up with a way to predict network outages using machine learning. Another developed a tool to automatically transfer license keys for Cisco devices. Employees say the challenge has permeated Cisco’s culture bottom to top—and decision-makers are listening.

This article originally appeared in the March 2019 issue of Fortune.

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