Fast Company

Editor's Letter: Comedy & Tragedy

Two years ago, while an editor at another business magazine, I worked with a writer on a major feature about the then-thriving Lehman Brothers. He was enamored of CEO Dick Fuld and his purported mastery of bond-market risk. "Fuld's magic," the writer asserted, "has in part been to ignore doomsday predictions."

That assessment, of course, has turned out to be dreadfully wrongheaded. In a dizzying spiral of collapse, Lehman has fallen into bankruptcy, a victim of the subprime meltdown and its own shortsightedness about the exposure it faced. Wall Street is an industry that, in good times, seems built only on greed and opportunity, but in bad times is reduced to its core: the realization that without trust, the financial markets are nothing. Without honesty -- not only in dealing with clients and trading partners but also in assessing a portfolio's worth -- all the economic engineering and creative derivatives simply accelerate a downward slide.

I can't pretend that Fast Company does not sometimes make its own mistakes of judgment. Our intention here, though, is not to build wealth for wealth's sake but rather to encourage market-based solutions to the world's challenges -- our belief being that a robust, creative, innovative economy can help solve many of our ills. In that pursuit, we are occasionally guilty of believing too quickly, embracing too easily the answers we want to hear. Four years ago, for instance, we named green architect William McDonough a Master of Design. In this issue, we return to McDonough and reassess his legacy. Whether or not you are familiar with McDonough, I urge you to read Danielle Sacks's "The Mortal Messiah," on page 140. It is a cautionary tale about what happens when ideals are not matched by business acumen.

Which is not to say that we at Fast Company see nothing but doom and gloom. Creative ideas continue to spring up -- and in unexpected places. The proudly self-labeled "Darth Vader of the Internets," Microsoft technical fellow Gary Flake, has challenged himself (with prodding from Bill Gates and CEO Steve Ballmer) to rejuvenate the company's innovative spirit. (See "Young Flakenstein," on page 118.) On the pop-culture stage, Seth MacFarlane has used a crude and seemingly unsophisticated vehicle -- the Family Guy TV series -- to build a next-generation media empire that has implications for Hollywood, Silicon Valley, Madison Avenue, and any company that wants to sell to consumers in their teens, twenties, and thirties. (See "Family, Valued," on page 96.) Even in times of economic turmoil, we see power and potential in inventive thinking. Indeed, it is the only way to rescue our present and remake our future.

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