Silicon Valley Watcher - Former FT journalist Tom Foremski reporting from the intersection of technology and media

John Chambers Marks Dull Innovation Summit Panel- Content Was"Slightly Less Useless" Than Prior Panels

Posted by Tom Foremski - October 11, 2007

Thursday morning I rushed across to the East Bay to catch TechNet's Innovation Summit at UC Berkeley--but I should have lingered longer in bed.

The morning session featured Charlie Rose moderating a conversation between John Chambers, CEO of Cisco Systems; John Chen, CEO of Sybase; and Laura Tyson, Professor Haas Business and Public Policy Group at UC Berkeley. The subject: Charting a National Innovation Policy for the Next Decade.

It was tremendously dull because there was nothing new said. And Charlie Rose's ability to throw softball questions, while making them sound insightful and important, added further layers of misery.

John Chambers Cisco CEOThey said the same things I've been hearing them, and their ilk say for the past few years. Not enough H1b visas; education is very important; not enough engineers being produced in the US; not enough math being taught in US schools; government needs to fund research; government need to stay out of technology choices, overseas governments are jumping ahead of US by making technology choices; etc.

At the mid-morning break I ran into a lot of people I knew from various Silicon Valley companies, and also other journalists. I complained about the lack of content.

I said I'm tired of hearing John Chambers say that our school system is broken. Why does he boast of installing a cutting edge network in the new local baseball stadium, Cisco should be boasting of doing that in our local schools.

Our Silicon Valley leaders constantly complain about education yet allow their local schools to become basket cases. They should be showcases.

Silicon Valley cannot go around saying to the world "We are inventing the future here," when its local communities are struggling and unable to cope with the present.

If Silicon Valley's technologies are so incredibly powerful and game changing let's see them applied in our own communities first, especially our schools. Wouldn't that be an amazing example to the world? Wouldn't that be an amazing project for John Chambers, one of our top business leaders and visionaries? I bet he could do anything he sets his mind to, instead of giving up on the schools by saying the system is broken and cannot be fixed.

Sucks less

Everybody I spoke with agreed with my complaints about the content, saying they were surprised that this venue couldn't produce anything new. However, one of my colleagues at a large newspaper, jumped into the discussion saying he strongly disagreed with what I was saying.

"This event is slightly less useless than the one they had at Stanford (university) a while back, that one was was totally useless." Great compliment, I said. So, this one sucks less than the other one, which totally sucked.

One former exec of one of Silicon Valley's largest companies said "it seemed like 1997 warmed over again."

Discouraged by the quality of the first half of the summit, I skipped the second panel of the morning: Charlie Rose throwing softballs on Green Technologies with John Doerr, uberVC; Jonathan Swartz CEO of Sun; John Melo, CEO of Amyris Biotechnologies and Larry Brilliant, head of Google.org. I would have liked to have seen Mr Brilliant [btw, brilliant name although it must have been tough growing up with it.]

TechNet's mission statement:

To serve as the voice and advocate of the innovation economy by uniting CEOs and Senior Executives with leading policy makers in a bipartisan effort to sustain and advance America's global leadership in technology and innovation.

Clearly, with content such as this Innovation Summit, TechNet has chosen an extremely challenging approach to fulfilling its mission statement.

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