The Carnegie Switch

Sometimes doing what you know best isn’t enough to stay relevant for a long time.

History has a lot to teach us, if we choose to learn from it.

Back in the 19th century, there was a great revolution after the civil war in America. This was led by great industrialists who have their names etched in history as the men who built America.

Among them is John D. Rockefeller — the great oil man, Cornelius Vanderbilt — who went from shipping to rail transportation, Andrew Carnegie — from shipping to pioneer steel construction, J.P Morgan, and Henry Ford, to list a few.

I chose the men who built America for this piece simply because history has a very bad way of repeating itself — when we fail to learn from it. Each of the great men mentioned above faced serious opposition to their empires. What set them apart from those who have faded away is the fact that they were able to recognize the power of innovation, and the time to pull the switch.

Times come when we get too comfortable with the way we do things and forget to develop, or possibly fight the quest to develop.

However, times change, we evolve, new things come on board, and we must be flexible enough to allow such developments — this is an attribute the men who built America had (like every other successful person); INNOVATION.

Just like Jack Welch once said, if your company is not finding new ways of doing things everyday, then you don’t have a company.

Innovation is that secret sauce

The use of pipelines today came as a result of the opposition John D. Rockefeller faced from the rail transporters, which drove him to THINK, rather than succumb to their demands.

With the rail transporters sidelined from the oil business, their businesses began to fold up — as there was no cargo to fill up their trains anymore. Here comes Andrew Carnegie (you can call him a failed (ing) rail transporter), who was only looking out for expansion, and wanted to build a bridge across the Mississippi. While this was structurally impossible with the use of iron, sheer determination led to the discovery/use of STEEL.

Apart from successfully building a bridge across the Mississippi, Carnegie had opened up new frontiers in Architecture and Engineering!

See that switch? From rail transport to construction! He could have stuck to the advice of the Engineers, and probably have the bridge redesigned to accommodate the inadequacies of iron. Or more likely, abandon the project.

Back to the quote from Jack Welch, if your company is not finding new ways of doing things every day, then you don’t have a company.

You never can tell where innovation will lead you to. It is a non-negotiable must-have for long lasting success.


Now there’s no way I’d write this without relating it to Nigeria and her woes.

Rather than sabotage new developments because of the threat they are likely to pose to our fortune-making business empires, why not see the light and switch?

Of course, constant electricity in the country is a great threat to the generator importing, retail, servicing, and the oil cabal, but there’s more money to be made from alternative power.

How about the roads filled with life-threatening trucks? Can we switch to rail? The list is endless, it cuts through all sectors. So many things that should be obsolete remain only because we have chosen to focus on little personal gains over real development. And this is why many of our companies do not last beyond their first generation.

How pathetic is the double loss — the nation remains underdeveloped, and the companies fade off as the owners die.


Sometimes, all it takes is a little SWITCH, that big RISKY step. Don’t get too comfortable doing that one thing, it won’t last forever.