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The KnowledgeWay to the 21st Century
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I want you to close your eyes and feature this scenario. Twenty- five years from today - in the year 2021 - someone will stand at a podium making the keynote address at a High Tech Awards dinner like this one. She'll be facing a crowd very much like you. And she'll be looking back a quarter of a century - at us.

This is what I hope she will say:

In the last years of the second millennium, the greater Washington region - individuals, businesses and institutions - came together as a community to seize the economic, educational and social opportunities of the communications revolution. They, like no other region in the world, acted from a position of strength, recognizing that their quality of life and economic base - in spite of its apparent robustness - would be weakened if they continued on their current course.

They boldly recognized and nurtured a network-centric entrepreneurial community that created a new economic vibrancy and climate of innovation in the region. In turn, this innovative spirit triggered a cascading revitalization in education, governance, health services, and community-building. A revitalization that continues well into the 21st century.

Most importantly, the region became the global center of the knowledge industry - the most powerful sector in today's economy. They had the leadership, the conviction, and the knowledge - they were, indeed, the KnowledgeWay to the 21st century.

At the Crossroads

Now, come back to this High Tech Awards dinner. We are at a unique point where we can shape history. We are at the outset of a communications revolution that will lead to profound transformation in commerce, education, governance, and our society at large.

But the fact is, many people today "just don't get it." They deny a revolution is occurring. Or they are simply caught up in day-to-day execution. Others are myopic about what is occurring in their industry ... with their customers ... and within their own enterprises.

Ironically, many of us in information technology and telecommunications really "don't get it." Our focus on technology keeps us from realizing this is about people and a sea of change in society. In 1992, I certainly "didn't get it." It is our legacy that makes it hard for us to understand the transforming change and opportunity of the communications revolution.

Then again, history is replete with examples of our inability to accept revolutionary ideas because they do not fit traditional boxes.

One of the best known occurred when a college student submitted a paper that proposed a reliable overnight delivery service. His professor provided this visionary young man with this insight: "The concept is interesting and well-formed, but in order to earn better than a 'C,' the idea must be feasible." That student was none other than Fred Smith, who went on to form Federal Express.

Other examples of great people who "just didn't get it" in their time:

  • In 1927, H. M. Warner, founder of Warner Brothers, observed, "Who the hell wants to hear actors talk?"
  • In 1943, Thomas Watson, chairman of IBM, noted, "I think there is a world market for maybe five computers."
  • In 1977, Ken Olson, the president, chairman and founder of DEC, exclaimed, "There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home."

As late as 1993, the Internet - the core of this netcentric movement - was a non-factor in the commercial sector. Three short years later, the phenomenon of the net has exploded - making a whole new batch of industry executives "eat crow."

It's easy for us to chuckle about how so many otherwise brilliant folks have looked a revolution in the face and not recognized it for what it is. But how clairvoyant have we been in our region?

  • I'm sure Steve Case can remember the start of this decade when he, Jim Kimsey, and Len Leader were trying, with little success, to raise financing for a venture called Quantum Technologies -- that went on to become America Online.
  • I'm equally sure that Rick Adams -- the founder of UUNet -- is getting the last laugh now that his firm was acquired by MFS for $2B in a recent transaction.
Greater Washington Entrepreneur - Not an Oxymoron

Fortunately, we have many commercial success stories in our region. Yet, how do we convince ourselves - and the world - that the term "greater Washington region entrepreneur" is not an oxymoron?

Creative ... Innovative ... Entrepreneurial - these are not attributes associated with this region. Yet, we are a story waiting to be told. All around us is evidence of the robust activity of hundreds of small firms coming out of nowhere to respond to the opportunity of the communications revolution.

  • Creative - Does winning a Clio "Gold" award qualify for creativity? Proxima of McLean, Virginia, recently garnered a coveted Clio award - the advertising industry's highest honor and the first ever awarded for a commercial website. Not a Madison Avenue ad agency. Not a Silicon Gulch web star. The gold winner was right here in the stodgy old Potomac corridor!
  • Innovative - Do the names Cryptolope, EventQ, Freeloader, Personal View, Project Eleven, Podium, Python and SpaceTalk mean anything to you? They should and they will, for these are names of some of the new netcentric enabling technologies coming from this region.
  • Entrepreneurial - A string of IPOs - Axent ... CyberCash ... US Order ... UUNet ... and certainly more to follow - foretell the region's new-found entrepreneurial zeal.

Consider the hundreds of firms, tens of thousands of jobs, and scores of opportunities that already comprise a netcentric force in this region including Bell Atlantic Media Ventures, Digital Ink, Discovery Communications, GRC International, InternetMCI, National Geographic Ventures, SAIC Network Solutions, Thompson Publishing, and USA Today Information Network and the list continues to grow.

Virtually every month, new netcentric businesses are cropping up - and new opportunities are spinning out of existing businesses. But this activity by itself will not be enough - for other regions are moving proactively to advance their economic competitiveness. Regions from New York City's Silicon Alley, to L.A.'s hi-tech entertainment, to San Francisco's Silicon Gulch are stepping forward to advance their own netcentric and new media entrepreneurship.

A Foot in the Past, An Eye on the Future

Here in greater Washington, we are as much in the cross-hairs of the communications revolution as any region in the world. We have much to gain - collectively and individually. But, we also have much to lose. Certainly, individual enterprises can succeed in spite of the region, but they will suffer - directly or indirectly - if the region is not successful.

Greater Washington is more fortunate than most metropolitan regions for one important reason - you. The information technology and telecommunications businesses in this region have enjoyed great success and can point to remarkable accomplishments.

Dating to the late 1960s, the region has quietly developed a strong technology and infotech infrastructure. And vital industries - like systems integration, telecommunications and biosciences - are centered here.

We can look back with admiration and gratitude to a few great leaders who established our beachhead - people like Bill McGowan of MCI, Dr. Robinson of CEIR, Ivan Selin and Charles Rossotti of AMS, John Toups of PRC and Earle Williams of BDM to name a few. And to their many successors including Bob Cook, Jim Garrett, Cliff Kendall, Bob LaRose, Emmit McHenry, John Norris Maguire and Bert Roberts. Along the way, Washington Technology - led by Esther Smith and John Sanders - has served as an industry bellwether and promoter of our cause.

Equally impressive, some of the most notable and accomplished individuals at the core of the communications revolution call our region home, including Vint Cerf, Bill Gorog, Bob Kahn and Bill Melton. These people are not just technology enablers; they enabled the vision of a netcentric society that inspires us today.

As the transformation advances, a new leadership base that "gets it" is emerging in this region. We have a unique opportunity of benefiting from our past and current leaders and pairing them with the new breed of netcentric entrepreneur that is coming on strong. With them comes vision, relevant knowledge, a youthful vitality and enormous opportunity.

Let's Get Off Our Laurels

Clearly, our success has evolved. It has happened without fanfare. It has grown in spite of being in the shadow of the Federal government. It has happened without the benefit of prominent media coverage.

We know our success. And we should take great pride in our accomplishments. Today, we have an excellent foundation on which to build - thanks to you. The wisest of you know how fleeting success is in this rapidly changing field. For as Will Rogers said, "Even if you are on the right track, you'll get run over if you just sit there."

We cannot stand pat; we cannot rest on our laurels. In fact, we have much to do to if we are to continue our success into the future. Let me suggest four key strategies:

  1. We must use our infotech and telecommunications base to transition into the knowledge industry.
  2. We must encourage the growth of netcentric product businesses in our region, for they generate fast growth, global attention, large net worth, venture capital and additional entrepreneurial activity in the region.

  3. We must recognize that innovation can - and must - come from within our existing businesses. Netcentric "intrapreneurs" can produce quantum change as long as we don't hold them back by legacy processes and thinking.
  4. Most strategically, we must cultivate netcentric entrepreneurship - for that may be the single most important action we can take to remain a vibrant community. To these new innovators, the future is indeed now. And they are our vanguard for the netcentric economic revolution before us.
The Power of One

Today we are at a serendipitous time where our businesses - and more importantly our business leaders - can profoundly impact our community. We are at the fortuitous intersection of need and good.

This region can and should be the global center of the knowledge industry of the 21st century. Our concentration of Internet activity, netcentric development and relevant human capital provide the foundation for our future.

We are on the verge of a breakthrough as we capitalize on our potential - let's execute, and the fame, identity and success will follow.
We are poised for global leadership - let's vow tonight to make this a reality.
We have been infinitely blessed - let's share this blessing.

If we each commit to help but one other person, we help ourselves and we help fulfill the region's enormous potential. I ask you to each reach out over the next year and help one entrepreneur. Mentor, advise, invest, partner, connect or just plain give encouragement.

Let's not rely on others to make a difference. It's time for each of us to make a greater difference. Individually - as the "Power of One."

If we do, we will have defined our place in history. We will be the KnowledgeWay to the 21st century.

Thank you.

Mario Morino
The Morino Institute
May 1996

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