Speaking Out: Cisco's John Chambers

How bright is the future for tech?

I am an optimist about the future of tech, and I am because of the role it's going to play in terms of our standard of living and productivity. There's wave after wave of applications and new technologies that are going to change fundamental business processes, in ways that people are just starting to imagine. The virtual networked organization will be the most basic change since the assembly line -- except it won't only be for manufacturing, it will apply to all businesses and governments.

Do you expect tech will keep delivering big productivity gains?

We're at the early stages of what this productivity can mean. Over five years ago, we said it was possible for a country to grow 2% to 3% a year, and that 3% to 5% was not out of the question. The top economic thinkers and business and government leaders politely said: "The concept is nice, but not a chance." But we knew we could drive our own productivity 10% a year -- and then use that productivity to move into new markets, or to bring it to the bottom line.

Now most people think 2% to 3% growth is a given. But stopping at 2% to 3% would be a huge mistake. I think we could grow 3% to 5% [and benefit from] the huge standard-of-living implications that go with that.

When did you start preparing for an upturn?

We started 2 1/2 years ago. The time you make the changes is before anyone else sees it. There are a lot of advantages to being near a herd, because a herd has 1,000 eyes. But if you're not moving well in advance of the herd, you're in line with the herd's achievements.

How will this recovery be different from the last one?

In the 1990s the race was run by constantly driving over 200 mph. Anyone who tapped on the brakes was left behind. Today, it's more like the Tour de France. There's times when you're sprinting, there's times you're in huge turns, there's times when you're going uphill.

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