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STEP 1:  Uncover Your Right-of-Way


TED, IBM, Google, Apple and others are creating new growth by giving access to their right-of-way to create new growth that they alone can't create.  Keep protecting your assets to win in your current businesses.  And at the same time it is now possible to share those assets in new partnerships to create new kinds of growth leveraging the social and technical disruptions that are occurring. The first step is to reassess your strengths to find those underutilized assets. Access to these assets is the right-of-way that will be the basis for your new partnerships.


Right-of-way:  What is your communications industry?

The history of Silicon Valley is inextricably linked to railroads. Stanford University is named after the son of the founder of the Union Pacific Railroad. The railroad developed into the major growth industry of the late nineteenth century. But how often do you ride a long-distance train today?


Planes and trucks disrupted trains.  As much as the railroad companies missed the transition from trains to modes of transportation that did not require rails, the big miss was not foreseeing the potential that arose from thinking differently about the land that was under and above the rails. The land under the tracks is the classic right-of-way. To the railroads, the new telegraph technology offered the promise of reducing their old cost structure. With the telegraph, the railroads could know where all their trains were. Long before airplanes and trucks would technologically disrupt the railroads—the space above their tracks was available for a new kind of business: communication.


If they had seen the potential for the telegraph to be a business in its own right as complementary to riding a train, today we might be talking on Union Pacific phones rather than AT&T or Verizon. 

Digital natives will disrupt right-of-way


In ten years, everyone on the planet 28 years old or younger—rich or poor—will be a digital native.  We call them digital natives because they grew up in the interconnected world of early-stage social media, vivid video gaming interfaces, and early-stage cloud-served supercomputing.


They understand their own media very well but know little about current data-processing environments, for example. Most kids become adults physically between the ages of 13 and 15. The process of maturing, however, occurs at different rates and is influenced more or less by the media. Whatever media ecology they grow up with will shape the rest of their lives—whether we realize it or not.


As they become adults they will have a sense that they can connect personally with anyone on the planet—and they will be correct. This sense of global connectedness will disrupt rights-of-way.  What is already  apparent is that growing up in a digitally enhanced world will be different—very different—for better and for worse.

Baby thinks a book is a broken iPad

The innovation portfolio the railroads needed

How do I find my right-of-way?


Uncovering your own right-of-way involves understanding what the railroads never did learn, that every company is really in three businesses.


  • Begin by defining your core business. This is where you will find the right-of-way assets you can share. Not all should be shared. You must do this inventory and then decide later what to keep and what to share.

  • Reinvent your business as a service. The rights-of-way that your core needs to survive disruption are not to be shared. This would hurt your business. Instead, invest to prevent long-term obsolescence.

  • Redefine your business as an experience. Having attained clarity on what you do as a service, focus on the users of your service. What are you being hired to do? By looking for services that people want but don’t yet have, you will find new ways to complement your core business. The rights-of-way that enable this are the core of the new reciprocity business.

The railroad companies would have had to have been omniscient to forsee the century of innovation that was ahead of them.  We are more fortunate in being able to look backwards to see the missed opportunities.  We must learn from history.  It is no longer impossible to take the actions to turn disruption into opportunity.

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