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Leadership

The Return of John Chambers (Who Loves Insect Meat)

John Chambers, Cisco's former CEO, ran out into the audience during his Q&A at Techonomy 2018. He's coming back, and we don't expect him to stay put this time either. (Photo: Paul Sakuma)

This November 18, longtime tech industry leader John Chambers reprises his Monday morning dialogue with Techonomy’s community at our 2019 retreat at Half Moon Bay. You may see him run out into the audience again. His wisdom, energy and humor inspires and energizes us.

Welcoming him to Techonomy’s Half Moon Bay retreat for a third consecutive year continues a uniquely valuable tradition.

At Techonomy 2017, he explained how he was focusing on investing in and advising a small group of startups now that he’s left after so many years running Cisco. He singled out a company called Aspire, which raises crickets for human consumption.

Chambers made news when he said, “The primary source…of protein in your life, definitely within 20 years…will be insect protein.” He added: “It will be the cleanest form of protein you can produce at the least challenge to the environment, and it will be done through robotics and…big data and…cloud applications.” It was the kind of independent thinking we like at Techonomy, and it made many of us recalibrate our thinking about the future of food, even if many were quietly thinking, “no way.” (A video and transcript of Chambers’ entire appearance is here.)

He was alerting us to a major rising new industry, and a critical topic as climate change risks morphing into ecological collapse. Insects are very dense sources of protein, and raising them requires less food and water than other major sources of meat and generates substantially fewer greenhouse gases. A group called the North American Coalition for Insect Agriculture claims that it will be more than a $1 billion industry by 2023.

But hey, Chambers is worth a lot more to us than just his enthusiasm for eating bugs. He brought his characteristic global view of tech to both his appearances the past two years. He argued forcefully, for example, that both India and France have made huge strides in supporting innovation and entrepreneurship. Last year Chambers chided American political leaders because “we’re the only country in the world without a digitization plan nationally.”

He also argues we need to teach all children how to think about technology and artificial intelligence and entrepreneurship. That’s partly because, he predicts, 40% of the business models behind all industries today will be “destroyed” in a decade, as digital transformation sweeps across the economy. And “all the job creation will come out of the smaller companies and the startups.”

Echoing a theme that has emerged repeatedly over our decade of Techonomy conferences, Chambers added that how big companies and startups interact and cooperate is “an art.” For startups, he said, “big companies either over-love you or they under-love, or they have politics that silo you.” Much of what will separate winners from losers in coming years will depend on who masters that, he continued.

There’s way more to come. For the video and transcript of Chambers’ full 2018 appearance, go here. Or, for the full inspirational treatment, request your invitation to Techonomy 2019 to hear him this coming November. (Below are some highlights of last year’s flagship retreat.)

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