OCCASIONALLY, WHEN given the opportunity to chat with someone whose achievements dossier is bursting at the seams, whose list of bona fides is so long you have to ask for their resume as a cheat sheet, you can’t help but ask them about their formula for success.
This is one of those times.
The “someone” in question is one Christopher M. Jones, the newly appointed executive director and “lead maker” of the Arkansas Regional Innovation Hub. That resume includes a stint as assistant dean for graduate education at MIT (where the Pine Bluff native earned Master of Science degrees in nuclear engineering, technology and policy, and a doctorate in urban planning) as well as 20 years’ experience in energy infrastructure and community development. (Oh, and an academic interest in plasma fusion.) He’s exactly the kind of person you tap on the shoulder and ask, How do you do it? And here’s how he responds:
Making great use of alliteration, he lists “faith” first, followed by “family,” then speaks affectionately of “failure.” “There’s a quote by Benjamin Mays that says, ‘The tragedy in life doesn’t lie in not reaching your goal. The tragedy lies in having no goal to reach,” Jones says during a phone conversation. “I embrace failure and think that failure is important because you learn from it. It helps you to grow and be better.”
It’s the age-old cliche that never wilts, partly because it still rings true. Being well-schooled on failure—or more precisely, how it fits into the process—means not being afraid to push boundaries, to adapt and to bring something new to the table, which is exactly what Christopher hopes to cultivate in the state. His goal for Arkansas? To join the ranks of innovation powerhouse states. Or better yet, step in as a leader in fields such as outdoor tourism and food. “I am passionate about creating a strong network of collaboration across the state,” he says. “I believe that Arkansas can be a leader in the nation when it comes to innovation.”
On Coming Back to Arkansas
“Moving back wasn’t hard in most senses because I stayed connected. I love the state. I always have. My family is here. On average, we would visit two or three times a year. I’ve always, always wanted to come home. There’s much more of a family focus across the board here. Don’t get me wrong—the places on the East Coast did care deeply about family, but the culture overall was drive, drive, drive. Here, the culture is more about family well-being. I think that’s needed for us.”
On Where He Sees the Innovation Hub Heading Under His Direction
“We’re starting a strategic planning process that’ll kind of lay out the vision, mission and values of what the organization will be. I can tell you that we have the potential to touch a lot of people across the state. For example, there are slightly under 39,000 fifth-graders right now in the state of Arkansas. There’s no reason why we can’t touch each and every one of those fifth-graders and show them that they, too, can be makers, artists and entrepreneurs. That’s just one example. I see the potential in supporting economic development for small business owners who have an idea and want to create something, to turn that creation into a product and a product to business. This is where I see this going.”
On the Importance of the Innovation Hub to the Community
“I heard a quote on TV one time—and I don’t know who said it—but the quote was, ‘People only really believe what they’re able to experience.’ I think that captures the ‘why’ of the hub. We’re opening the doors for people to experience making, experience art and experience entrepreneurship. Once they experience, they’ll believe that they can play a role in it.”
On Having a Strong Support System
“My wife and I have been married for 15 years, and for all those 15 years, and even before when we were dating, she has been the factor that made the biggest difference in me overcoming failure. So having somebody that I can trust and partner with across the board made a huge difference. That’s something I would say to others. Find that person who can be—and that’s not necessarily your spouse—but someone who can be your confidant and your friend to help you through these times.”
Want to know more about all the good stuff happening at The Innovation Hub? Stop by for one of their tours, offered at 12:30 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and at 5:30 p.m. on Wednesdays.