Culled from the pages of Fast Company magazine, this year's top creative minds took risks, spurred ideas, and represented a masterful force driving every facet of business forward. Meet the 12 most creative minds of 2008.

Joeng Kim wants to "innovate innovation" with a mathematical formula. To do that, he envisioned a cube. One dimension could represent the impact of a particular innovative effort: Would it be incremental or revolutionary? Another axis could represent the process of innovation: Would it be achieved through analytic work or through artistic inspiration? The third axis was time: Was the innovation driven by the market today or in the distant future? This 3-D box is where every idea can be plotted in relation to its potential impact, time to market, and creative process. To succeed, Bell Labs' research efforts would need to be concentrated in the cube's sweet spot that incorporated big and small ideas, balanced the revolutionary with the useful, and involved quick turnarounds and far-off delivery dates.
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Ning, like many Web 2.0 companies -- Google, PayPal, YouTube, eBay, Facebook, MySpace, Digg, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Flickr -- is powered by viral loops. But it was designed specifically to exploit them. The brainchild of former Goldman Sachs investment banker Gina Bianchini and celebrity geek Marc Andreessen, Ning has grown automagically from the moment it launched -- providing a free platform for do-it-yourself social networks -- in February 2007. By August there were 80,000 Ning nets and as 2007 ended, there were 150,000. At the end of 2008 there are more than 500,000. The company estimates that by New Year's Eve 2010 it will host some 4 million social networks, with tens of millions of members, serving up billions of page views daily. "It's the power of compounding, predictable growth rates," Bianchini says.
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Van Jones has coined the term "green-collar jobs." Last year, Jones led a coalition of business, labor, and environmental groups that persuaded the Oakland City Council to provide $250,000 in seed money for America's first green-collar-jobs corps. He helped draft the Pathways out of Poverty legislation which pledged $125 million to train 35,000 people a year in green-collar jobs. And in February, Jones launched Green for All, an organization whose goal is to procure $1 billion in federal funding by 2012 for green-collar programs. "We are going to have to weatherize millions of homes and install millions of solar panels. That's millions of new jobs. We need to connect the people who most need the work with the work that most needs to be done," he says.
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For nearly a decade, the unhip have flocked to Alex Bogusky with hopes that a little of his mystique might rub off. His landmark work comes from pushing clients to the edge. For Volkswagen, TV spots included a close-up of a horrific, fatal-seeming car crash; for Orville Redenbacher, he called the deceased popcorn pitchman back from the dead; for Virgin Atlantic's business travelers, Bogusky offered up mock porn on a hotel TV network. Now Crispin has been handed perhaps its biggest challenge to date: Microsoft. His goal is to overcome the negative perception created by the two-year-old "Mac vs. PC" campaign. "It's part of your job as a marketer to find the truths in a company, and you let them shine through in whatever weird way it might be," Bogusky says.
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At 80, the Texas oil and energy tycoon is hurtling ahead toward new frontiers. T. Boone Pickens has minted billions with BP Capital, a fossil-fuel hedge fund he founded in 1996. And his Clean Energy Fuels, a company that markets natural gas for vehicles, was listed on the NASDAQ last year. Convinced of an imminent water shortage, Pickens has amassed rights to billions of gallons per year of the Texas panhandle's aquifer and hopes to build a 300-mile pipeline to Dallas. His most ambitious move is building the world's largest wind farm, a sprawling $10 billion project. "The United States today runs on 987,000 megawatts, and the demand is going to increase 150,000 megawatts in the next 10 years. We could supply most of that with wind," he explains.
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In her book, Groundswell, Charlene Li and co-author Josh Bernoff describe how the world of business has been transformed by social technologies and how companies can cope with an atmosphere in which they no longer control their own brands. "Social networks will be like air. The groundswell will be anywhere and everywhere you want it to be -- even in places you don't want it to be as a marketer in your company. Companies who can put aside their fear of losing control and tap into the power of that groundswell will really benefit from it," she says.
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When she was appointed by Mayor Adrian Fenty just over a year ago, Michelle Rhee had never led a school, let alone a school system with 10,000 employees and a budget of nearly $1 billion. Since then, she has shuttered 23 schools, canned 15% of the central-office staff, fired 250 teachers who failed to get NCLB-required certification, and bought out more than 200 others. As the new school year gets under way, she is pushing a revolutionary contract that may simultaneously kill the entrenched seniority hiring system and make Washington's teachers the highest paid in America. Her work has gained national attention, even down to a name-checked during the presidential debates between Barack Obama and John McCain. "We have a system that does wrong by poor kids of color. If we're going to live up to our promise as a country -- supposedly the greatest country -- that has got to stop," Rhee says.
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The $200 million Mondrian in South Beach, a fanciful, exuberantly patterned confection, a 335-room hotel-and-condo development overlooking Biscayne Bay, is the brainchild of the Dutch designer, Marcel Wanders. The place promises to be high on drama, with a swooping, laser-cut steel staircase; secret "kissing gardens;" and bathrooms with showerheads embedded in chandeliers. With a nod to Miami, the Mondrian will have lush gardens, pools, and spectacular views. With a nod to Wanders's heritage, it will feature blue and white Delft tiles in the condos' kitchens. But this being South Beach, not South Holland, and this being Wanders, not Vermeer, those tiles will be rendered with a mischievous twist: Instead of scenes of windmills, storks, and tulips, they'll feature sharks, gators, and the ceramic equivalent of mud-flap girls. "For me, it's very simple. I want to create a body of work that is really, deeply important to people," says Wanders.
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In December of 2007, in a decision that stunned the clubby academic design world, trustees of the 131-year-old Rhode Island School of Design unanimously picked Maeda, the former associate research director of MIT's famed Media Lab, as its next president. In choosing a technologist, the committee is gambling that a highly networked, Web-enabled thinker who also happens to be an artist, designer, and author can help reconcile the design world's competing impulses: creativity and pragmatism, uniqueness and mass-marketability. And no one was more surprised by the selection than Maeda himself. "RISD rhymes with risky!" he says cheerfully, displaying his fondness for goofy aphorisms ("RISD is the right-brain MIT!" is another favorite).
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Earlier this year, Seth MacFarlane inked a $100 million contract with Fox, followed by a breakthrough deal involving Google. Among males 18-to-34, often cited as the most desirable demographic in advertising, Family Guy is the highest-rated scripted program in all of television. It is among the most-downloaded shows on iTunes and the most-watched programs on Hulu. In September, the first of 50 bizarro animated shorts by MacFarlane appeared online. Seth MacFarlane's "Cavalcade of Cartoon Comedy," distributed by Google, is a series of Webisodes that MacFarlane describes as edgier versions of New Yorker cartoons come to life. For fans, they are MacFarlane's first non-TV venture and so exist outside the reach of censors and network suits. For the entertainment industry, they mark the first experiments with a bold new method of content distribution (and the entry of Google into its world). This purportedly unsophisticated hack comic now finds himself at the intersection of advertising, television, and the Web. "Animation is something that, if it works, it's more profitable for a studio than any other show," MacFarlane says.
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CEO Steve Ballmer has said that Microsoft's future lies in ad sales and "software plus services," desktop applications combined with Internet features. But, the likes of Google, Facebook, and Apple have gotten big head starts, as leaders in Web search, social networking, and online music. Those companies, not Microsoft, are most often praised as innovators. To Flake, a techie steeped in experimentation, that paradox represents a "historic" opportunity -- not just to bring Microsoft up to speed but to advance radically the Internet experience. In Microsoft's unparalleled reach -- more than a billion computer users worldwide -- Flake sees an unparalleled collective power; the more people contribute data to a site, he says, the richer it becomes for each user. Flake started Live Labs, a rapid-development Web team that exists outside of any specific product group, to exploit that notion. As he told Microsoft executives last year, "Despite all of the hype that has been somewhat omnipresent with the Internet over the past couple of years, we are still fundamentally undervaluing the total proposition that it represents."
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Back in 2001, Cisco went from being the most highly valued company in the world to a cautionary example of the excess of bubbles. Today, in the midst of an even wilder economic spiral, the company has a cushion of $26 billion in available cash, two dozen promising products in the pipeline and an unprecedented forward-looking strategy to unleash what it's calling a "human network effect." John Chambers has taken Cisco through a massive and radical reorganization. The goal is to spread the company's decision making far wider than any big company has attempted before, to working groups that currently involve 500 executives. Today, a network of councils and boards encourage executives to work together like never before. Cisco citizens are blogging, vlogging, and virtualizing, using social-networking tools that they've made themselves and usually exceed the capabilities of commercially available software. The bumpy part -- and the eye-opener -- is that the leaders of business units formerly competing for power and resources now share responsibility for one another's success. Chambers crows at the results, "The boards and councils have been able to innovate with tremendous speed. Fifteen minutes and one week to get a [business] plan that used to take six months!"
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The 12 Most Creative Minds Of 2008

Culled from the pages of Fast Company magazine, this year's top creative minds take risks, spur ideas, and represent a masterful force driving nearly every facet of business forward. Meet the 12 most creative minds of 2008.

Culled from the pages of Fast Company magazine, this year's top creative minds took risks, spurred ideas, and represented a masterful force driving every facet of business forward. Meet the 12 most creative minds of 2008.

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