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Meet Nic Selk—Our First Innovation Program Manager

Photo of Nic Selk
Nic on a recent trip to Naples, Florida

When Cisco recently began investing more heavily in innovation, one of those investments was Nicholas Selk. Today, Nick is one of three full-time innovation consultants in our Services Innovation Excellence Center (SIEC). Born in Allentown, Pennsylvania and raised in Los Angeles, Nic got a BA in International Business and Marketing from Florida Atlantic University. He now resides in Charleston, South Carolina, where he works his innovation magic remotely. His mission: to create as much value for the company as he can. Married to a German wife and passionate about animal welfare, Nic honed his innovation consulting skills at a New York startup called Brightidea, before joining Cisco less than two years ago. We sat down with him for a better understanding of his role.

How did you find your job at Cisco?

I worked for a startup and did some consulting for Cisco a couple of years ago. I had made a good connection with my team lead and the person who used to run the team. They wanted to make an investment in innovation and bring in more expertise. One thing led to another, and I became the first full-time innovation consultant on the team; now there are two more.

Can you tell us a little more about what your job entails?

I work with different business leaders inside and outside the service organization to understand their major pain points, problems and opportunities, and what they want to innovate around. There’s a quote I use a lot that says, if I had an hour to save the world, I would spend 55 minutes defining the problem and five minutes working on the solution. So really taking the time to understand the problems and pain points. I’m not the actual guy who thinks of the solutions; all I try to do is figure out the best place to get those solutions. Do we need to get them from our own employees? Do we need to get them from our vendors, from partners, from suppliers, from customers—or a co-creation of those to get insights and information? Then we put a process in place to quickly evaluate what are the best solutions and incubate them using our own version lean start up principles. For our team, the most important thing is creating business impact around our strategic priorities.

What do you love most about your job?

It’s helping people solve their problems. People come to us looking for help with problems they’ve been struggling with for months or even years. I took that Team Space StandOut assessment, which said I’m an Advisor and an Equalizer. That means I display the rare ability to combine the right thing to do with the best thing to do. I enjoy helping people get to their own success stories. I enjoy the technology too, but I’m certainly not a tech head.

Give us three career highlights.

First was starting my professional career in New York. They say if you can make it in New York, you can make it anywhere. I’m quite proud that, when I moved there, I slept on my best friend’s floor while looking for a job, but I found a job in three days. I stayed in New York for six years. Second, I’m pretty passionate about managing, mentoring and coaching people, so something that sticks out is my first direct report. Having someone report to you is a responsibility, a big one, because you’re relying on your own ways to shape and nurture people. And third is being able to explain to family and friends what I do! I struggled with that; my brother used to think I worked for the FBI. But now I can articulate what it means to manage innovation.

What do you like best about working at Cisco?

I swore to myself I would never work again for a big company after I worked in the HR department for a big French bank for two years; the people weren’t that friendly and it was slow to change. That’s why I switched and went to a startup. But more than ever now, Cisco is addressing things from a people standpoint. I feel like they care about their employees—and that, to me, is really valuable. I’m able to work remotely, and as long as I hold up my end of Our People Deal, Cisco will hold up theirs. It’s an amazing feeling.

Which company value means the most to you and why?

Make Innovation Happen is the big one for me. Since the Fortune 500 was established 60 years ago, less than 12 percent of the companies have stayed on. You innovate or die. I’m extremely passionate about keeping companies alive and thriving.

Who have been your greatest influences or inspirations?

My great grandfather, John Kluge, came over from Germany and started from absolutely nothing. At one point, he was the richest man in America.

What advice would you give to someone looking to join Cisco?

Be yourself. Our team likes diversity; we don’t want the same cookie-cutter mold every single time. We think diversity and inclusion brings about better collaboration and better results. So embrace your uniqueness.

Nic and his wife Sophie at the Taj Mahal.
Nic's great grandfather John Kluge.

Speaking of Innovation, don’t miss out on the next Innovate Everywhere Challenge. The Challenge officially starts on October 26. Watch live or catch the replay of the Cisco Beat After Show to find out what makes a winning idea.

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