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Happy New Year from Spin Cycle — Here are the most inspiring leadership moments of 2015

TODD SMITH

TODD SMITH

Inspiration comes in many forms – and 2015 was certainly a year of myriad moments of innovative thought.

Some entrepreneurs found inspiration in Pope Francis’ visit to the U.S. Others found inspiration in an inventor’s prolific milestone: breaking Thomas Edison’s record for lifetime patents. And these were just two of the year’s momentous occasions. Here’s a list of the top 5 highlights from 2015, as rated by Inc.

1. Pope Francis addresses the U.S. Congress.

On Sept. 24, Pope Francis became the first pope in history to address the U.S. Congress.

He spoke in English for about 30 minutes, citing Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Catholic social activist Dorothy Day, and Trappist monk Thomas Merton as inspiring Americans. He also mentioned several topics that could be seen as challenges posed to any entrepreneur or business leader. One of them was that the wealth businesses create should be used to share prosperity.

“The fight against poverty and hunger must be fought constantly and on many fronts, especially in its causes,” Francis said, as a prelude to his remarks on business. “I know that many Americans today, as in the past, are working to deal with this problem.”

He continued, quoting from his Encyclical Letter Laudato Si’ from May: “Business is a noble vocation, directed to producing wealth and improving the world. It can be a fruitful source of prosperity for the area in which it operates, especially if it sees the creation of jobs as an essential part of its service to the common good.”

2. Inventor Lowell Wood breaks Thomas   Edison’s record for most U.S. patents.

Between his first U.S. patent in 1869 and his final one – No. 1,084 – in 1933, Thomas Edison became a historical celebrity practically synonymous with the word inventor. He held more U.S. patents than any other American.

That is, until July 7, when an inventor named Lowell Wood received U.S. Patent No. 9,075,906 for “a device that can imbue medical gear with video­conferencing and data-transmission abilities,” reports Ashlee Vance in BloombergBusiness. What’s more, Vance noted, Wood used to be an F student.

It makes his record-setting moment in 2015 all the more inspiring. The patent he received on July 7 was No. 1,085 for Wood. And there are more on the way: Vance reports Wood has more than 3,000 inventions awaiting assessment by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

3. Tu Youyou, at 84, becomes the first Chinese woman to win a Nobel Prize.

Youyou won for helping to create an anti-malaria medicine. And her path to the award was both surprising and traditional – which is why entrepreneurs will feel inspired by it.

What was surprising was that she doesn’t have a medical degree or a PhD. She went to a pharmacology school in Beijing. Then she became a researcher at the Academy of Chinese Traditional Medicine. As the BBC points out, in China they are calling her “three no’s” winner: no medical degree, no doctorate, and no time working in the Western hemisphere.

All of which gives her an untraditional background. Yet her discovery of the prize-winning medicine is steeped in Chinese tradition. Her treatment, called artemisinin, derives from a plant used to treat malaria for more than 2,000 years. In her research, Youyou learned from an ancient Chinese text called The Handbook of Prescriptions for Emergencies, written in 340 A.D. by Ge Hong. “It gave her helpful hints on how to extract the herb’s active principle,” notes The Economist.

In short, there are two aspects of Youyou’s journey from which any entrepreneur could glean inspiration: she did it her way, and she didn’t give up.

4. NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft takes photos of Pluto.

The heart-stopping photos were the result of a nine-year, three-billion-mile journey. New Horizons launched in January 2006. It passed Jupiter one year later. “For another eight years, it would sail through the solar system at 31,000 miles per hour,” wrote Nicola Twilley in The New Yorker.

One of the many inspiring lessons you can extract from the New Horizons mission is a general reminder: when your scope is epic, you can yield groundbreaking results even by just skimming the surface. The camera on New Horizons only came within 7,800 miles of Pluto’s surface. Yet the photos were no less historic for that distance, mainly because cameras had never come so close to Pluto before.

5. The world’s top-performing CEO refuses to take credit for the success of his company.

Not long ago, Inc. spoke to London Business School professor Gareth Jones about employee-first cultures. I asked if there was a large company that startups could look to as a role model – an example of how it is possible to preserve your employee-first culture as you grow.

Jones cited Novo Nordisk, the Danish pharmaceutical giant whose CEO, Lars Rebien Sorensen, was just named Harvard Business Review’s top-performing CEO in the world.

The key to Sorensen’s success with Novo Nordisk is that he is “obsessed with the culture of the organization,” says Jones. “He doesn’t see culture as something HR builds. It’s central to what the business is.” Sorensen has also helped instill values that transcend the bottom line. Under his stewardship, the company routinely brings in diabetes patients to visit, so employees can feel more directly how millions worldwide would suffer without medication.

Dethroned Mic | Steve Harvey, Miss Universe Pageant Fumbled Event

The recent Miss Universe pageant – where grace and poise rule the moment – just the opposite happened. Miss Universe 2015 host Steve Harvey wrongfully declared Miss Colombia the winner when she was the first runner-up. Pia Alonzo Wurtzbach, the contestant from the Philippines, had won.

A contrite Harvey was forced to fix his mistake. “OK folks … I have to apologize,” he told a confused crowd in Las Vegas. “Let me just take control of this. This is exactly what’s on the card. I will take responsibility for this. It was my mistake. It was on the card.”

Moments before, he’d announced Miss Colombia Ariadna Gutierrez as the winner, and she was crowned. Waving a Colombian flag and smiling broadly, she blew kisses at the audience.

When Harvey returned to the stage, Wurtzbach appeared at a loss of what to do. Stunned, she walked to the front of the stage, where the coveted crown was taken off the head of Miss Colombia and put on hers.

Harvey later took to Twitter to apologize, but he made another misstep when he misspelled both Colombia and the Philippines in an initial tweet. That message was deleted. Both Harvey and the Miss Universe pageant deserve a Melted, Dethroned Mic!

Each week, The Spin Cycle will bestow a Golden Mic Award to the person, group or company in the court of public opinion that best exemplifies the tenets of solid PR, marketing and advertising – and those who don’t. Stay tuned – and step-up to the mic! And remember … Amplify Your Brand!

» Todd Smith is president and chief communications officer of Deane, Smith & Partners, a full-service branding, PR, marketing and advertising firm with offices in Jackson. The firm — based in Nashville, Tenn. — is also affiliated with Mad Genius. Contact him at todd@deanesmithpartners.com, and follow him @spinsurgeon.

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