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SUMESH ARORA — Celebrating November as “Innovation Month”

SUMESH ARORA

SUMESH ARORA

S o what is in a Twitter hashtag anyway? A lot, when you take a close look at the nine characters in “#MsInNov8” that were specifically chosen to promote the concept of innovation in Mississippi during November.  Innovation has the power to transform lives and comes in all shapes, sizes and colors; in small steps and giant leaps; and from rural and urban areas.  In their book, The Game-Changer: How You Can Drive Revenue and Profit Growth with Innovation, A.G. Lafley and Ram Charan state, “To succeed, companies need to see innovation not as something special that only special people can do, but as something that can become routine and methodical.”

Gov. Phil Bryant has officially proclaimed November as “Innovation Month” for the state, realizing a need to bring people from all walks of life together under the umbrella of innovation. The ultimate goal for the Innovation Month is take time each year for showcasing Mississippi’s unique offerings and how they can be leveraged to grow the economy in two ways: a) from within by inspiring our citizens and b) by attracting more industry and business from outside the state.

While making the first proclamation in 2013, Bryant said, “Mississippi’s innovative economy is helping drive economic development for our state, and the Kauffman Index of Entrepreneurial Activity named Mississippi fifth in the nation for business startup activity in 2012. This distinction would not be possible without the innovative people and businesses that make Mississippi great and drive innovative business growth.”

In Mississippi, innovation is strongly evident in many areas of our economy, including agriculture, economic development, disaster preparedness, education and research, energy, entrepreneurship, fine arts, government, health care, information and communications technology, national security, manufacturing, space exploration and tourism. Innovative products manufactured in Mississippi enable people to fly, drive, sail and even explore space, all the while enriching the quality of life at home, work and play.

Mississippi has a solid history of innovation and there is a long list of “firsts” that took place in the Magnolia State. Some of these innovations may seem simple today like the Coca-Cola bottles that were first produced by Joseph A. Biedenharn, a candy store owner in Vicksburg in 1894. Others, such as the first human lung transplant in 1963 and the first human heart transplant performed in Jackson, Mississippi in 1964, still evoke a sense of awe and pride in the state.

According to an article by Ramsey Hachem, M.D. from the Washington University School of Medicine, Dr. James Hardy and his team had performed approximately 400 transplant experiments on dogs before proceeding with human lung transplantation. Despite many failures, the team believed that “cautious clinical application of the procedure” in humans was acceptable, and continued evaluating many candidates over a year before settling on a patient who met their selection criteria:  a 58-year old man who had lung cancer resulting in lung collapse and recurrent pneumonia.  While the patient was serving a life sentence in prison, Dr. Hardy outlined the potential complications and risks with him in detail and he agreed to proceed.  The donor on the other hand had been brought to the emergency department because of a massive heart attack resulting in heart failure and shock. When it became apparent that successful resuscitation was not possible, his family agreed to the organ donation. The donor and the recipient were prepared for their respective procedures in adjacent operating rooms. Both operations were uneventful and the recipient began breathing spontaneously.  While the operation was successful, the patient died after 18 days due to other complications and the autopsy showed no evidence of lung rejection.

If innovation is on one side of the coin, risk is on the other side!  The statistical probability of getting heads and tails over a given number of coin tosses is 50:50, succeeding at developing and then deploying innovative technologies is a much riskier proposition.  As the system complexity increases, the chances of failure do so too and the time to adopt the innovation goes up significantly.  For example, nearly 400 Coca-Cola bottling plants were operating by 1909 even before the signature contoured bottle was introduced and by the end of the 1920s, bottle sales of Coca-Cola exceeded fountain sales.  The number of bottlers had grown to more than 1,000 according to the historical account on Coke’s website. The soft drink bottling business and supply chain itself has evolved over the years and is significantly different than the mom and pop operations of the early twentieth century.

Contrasting that to the lung operations, Dr. Hachem reported only 36 transplants were performed from 1963 – 1974 and in 1987, approximately 45 transplants were performed.  There was a big jump in the next three years and by 1990, over 400 were performed worldwide with activity continuing to increase rapidly until the mid 1990s when the number of annual transplants plateaued at approximately 1,400.  In recent years, the number of transplants has increased to approximately 2,200 per year and outcomes have improved due to refinement of surgical techniques, donor and recipient selection, and medical therapy.  The median survival of patients transplanted between 2000 and 2006 was 5.5 years compared with 4 years for those transplanted between 1988 and 1994.  However, chronic rejection has emerged as the leading obstacle to better long-term survival and the shortage of suitable donor organs remains the primary limitation to the more widespread use of lung transplantation. Additionally, we are still struggling with finding the optimum business models for health care delivery and management.

As we see from these examples, the road to innovation is not a smooth interstate, but feels more like a treacherous mountain path. We generally recognize the individuals who dare to trek up these paths as innovators and they end up paving the way for others to follow. Events like the 16th Annual Conference on Technology Innovation and TEDx Jackson will take place throughout the month of November and will highlight many of Mississippi’s innovators who are contributing in their unique way to make the world a better place to live.

Innovate Mississippi and its key partners, the Mississippi Development Authority and Maris, West & Baker Advertising, have been leading the way in spreading the innovation message across the state. A dedicated website is set up to showcase innovation events in November. It also displays the growing list of supporting organizations, which includes nearly 50 businesses, nonprofits, government entities and schools. Please email me directly or visit www.MsInnovationEconomy.com to submit your innovation related event and to sign up as a supporter of innovation in Mississippi.

The challenge to each of us is to keep on innovating, and asking ourselves each day: “DYI” (or, “Do You Innovate?”).  Tweet out your innovations with the hashtag #MsInNov8 and follow @MsInnovatioEco.

» Dr. Sumesh Arora is vice president at Innovate Mississippi, a non-profit organization with a mission to drive innovative business growth in Mississippi.  His doctoral research was focused on how new ideas spread and its applications to business, economic and policy development.  Follow him on Twitter @DrSumeshArora or contact via email at sarora@innovate.ms with questions about developing innovation strategy for your company or organization.

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