Back in the days before MCI Communications was swallowed up by the now notorious WorldCom, it was a prime example of an innovative company, and founder William McGowan was anybody's definition of an innovator. McGowan's MCI pioneered a whole new way of providing long-distance service -- and was first to offer an alternative to Ma Bell.

But what a struggle! For years the government didn't allow MCI to offer a competitive service. McGowan battled to get the rules changed and to keep the company alive until then. Ma Bell herself -- the prebreakup AT&T -- fought tooth and nail against the feisty little upstart.

In the end, the innovator prevailed. AT&T split up, the telecom industry deregulated, a thousand new enterprises formed. And however dismal the industry's state right now, who advocates a return to the old days of One Big Company? What's significant about this tale isn't just that our guy won. It's the oft-forgotten lesson that innovation depends not just on creative people and companies but also on permission and encouragement from society as a whole. The third and final section of our innovation series focuses on how today's economic trends will affect the MCIs of tomorrow.

The Innovation Factor: Part III

Innovation, We Trust
Creation Nation
A Brief History of Innovation
Ordinary People, Extraordinary Creativity

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