In the final installment of our three-part series on innovation, Inc focuses on how today's economic trends will effect the innovative entrepreneurs of tomorrow.
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.