Playbooks + Pattern recognition.(John Chambers)

When I saw that Patrick O’Shaughnessy had posted an interview with John Chambers last week, I rushed to listen. The following quote contains a number of gems which I will continue to mine.

When Chambers uses the term “pattern recognition” and explains the concept, it’s so much more coherent than the latest BI and data science geek speak.

And when Chambers mentions “[seeing] the patterns so accurately… for 40 quarters in a row” the whole concept of “engineering growth” comes to mind, especially regarding the implications of a public company that can successfully and near-perfectly engineer growth over long time horizons. Cisco’s case reminds me of what I learned about Netflix’s growth levers, and Enron’s artificially engineered growth.

John Chambers was the CEO of Cisco from 1995 to 2015 where he helped grow Cisco from $70 million to $40 billion in annual revenue.

Begin quote (via Invest Like The Best)

Pattern recognition defers to the numbers. [It’s] the ability to be able to see the patterns based upon how an order rate went in a given day of any month, in a given week of any month [or] quarter, of a given quarter in a year—and to see the patterns so accurately that for 40 quarters in a row, we not only didn’t miss… we were plus or minus, always at the midpoint or above in the range of the market. [And that’s] even though eighty percent of our business was new every quarter. So we not only hit our year forecast, [but] we hit the quarter forecast, always at the number, usually 2 cents [per share] above…

…it was that pattern recognition that allowed us to spend money during the quarter and be able to develop in ways that others did not. [It was] pattern recognition that [enabled us so that] if there was a problem or an opportunity, we saw it at the very beginning, which we could then adjust appropriately to.

But it wasn’t just at the top, it was all the way empowered down through the various engineering and sales arms. They were able to see the numbers so accurately. [And] they knew what they needed to change and correct ahead of time on it.

So that pattern recognition is so key. The pattern recognition has always been driven by customers… I get an idea about a market transition enabled by a new technology and then I go straight to customers and say, “what do you think?”

[It’s the] pattern recognition amplified by listening to the right customers at the right time, on what they think, either on the issue or the company, [that] allowed us to do 180 acquisitions with the highest track record… in the hi-tech industry… we were a machine on acquiring [companies]…

We ran playbooks on everything that we did, from acquisitions to being [number] one or two in a product category, to how you digitize a country, etc., in terms of direction.

It is that pattern recognition [which is] then put into playbooks that allows [you as a company] to move at a speed that others can not.

A simple issue: Playbooks. Pattern recognition. Then replicating that pattern much like a great sports team… [for example, the] Warriors team that passes 130 times per game, which is more than anybody has ever done in history, and wins 98% of the games when they pass 130 times…

Watching the patterns, then replicate it and playing it through, and being able to tell those stories again of what works and why it’s applicable.”

End quote

Competence + Confidence [Personal Theme]

I shared in the Growth Mentor mentee community yesterday:


And I don’t mean that as some kind of trope.

What I mean is the following:

All of the top performers, ever, made mistakes. There’s that famous Wayne Gretsky quote about missing 100 percent of the shots you never take. Michael Jordan missed a lot of shots and the opportunity to win many games for the Bulls. One of the reasons Jordan is known for making so many buzzer beaters (25 game winning shots) is because he tried. Jordan missed a lot of shots, too (He was 9-18 in the final 24 seconds and 5-11 in the final 10 seconds). Yes, he had an amazing record, but imperfect, and mortal like all of us.

I think one of the necessary ingredients in winning is just trusting yourself. You got this.

I come up with these 2-word themes every couple of months, that serve me as kind of a theme for everything I do professionally. I write these on a piece of paper that I tape to my fridge, for the constant reminder (I work from home as many of us do these days). Throughout the summer it my theme was “Focus + Courage”. That had a lot to do with career uncertainty and just figuring out “what game” I was playing (more on that, and Jordan, on my blog here).

Now I feel like I’m in a place where I have clarity on what the personal flywheel I’m building, and what I need to do (happy to elaborate about my own flywheel and what I’m building, but this isn’t about me; it’s about you). I’m happy to share my new theme with you, which I just put up on my fridge this week. And that is “Competence + Confidence”. And I think that’s relevant to Growth Mentor for obvious reasons.

Know what game.

“You could argue that Michael Jordan was as good at his job as anyone has ever been at their job in anything.”

Mark Vancil, Author of Rare Air

I finished watching The Last Dance for the first time a couple of months ago. This week I started watching it again. The well-curated, bespoke quality, behind-the-scenes look at the rise of Michael Jordan and the legendary 1990s Chicago Bulls is inspiring to the core. Watching the series is perhaps one of the single best studies on how humans can harness and develop talent to become great, and while watching, the inner desire for greatness burns inside the ambitious viewer, as if the series contains some sort of ‘strive for greatness’ contagion.

A single question has stuck with me while watching. That is, what game am I playing? One of the things I find fascinating about the Michael Jordan story (which can perhaps be extended to all great athletes, more generally) is the hyper-focused and continued strive for excellence within the framework of a simple goal. That’s “the Game”, so to speak. When meditating on this, I can’t help but consider how often I over-complicate my own life ambitions, and how much I crave a simple goal—a simple “game”. For Michael, it was to score baskets and win championships. Score the most baskets and win the most championships. That’s where he invested his energy; his consciousness. That was his game.

Between the first time I watched the series and now, through a few different events, conversations, and just keeping my head down and working on this question, I’ve gratefully been able to hone knowing what my game is. And now that I know, I don’t want to hedge. Optionality is great within the game, i.e. I can “break left” or “break right”, but playing multiple games can only distract. Wake up in the morning and be the best. Maybe it’s really that simple.

What’s your game?

Importance vs. urgency

​We live in a digital world which pulls us into conflating the urgent and the important. As marketing decision makers we need to build up our prioritization and decision-making muscles. We need to constantly rebucket “nice to have” and “need to have”. And we need to constantly realign our activities with business objectives, which can be all the difference between calling something a “success” or a “failure”.

Inspired by hearing Nir Eyal talk about his book Indistractable: How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life.