You find the future in the most unexpected places. For example, pay a visit to Grand Rapids, Michigan. There's a part of Grand Rapids that seems to live permanently in the 1950s; a solid, square-jawed, Midwestern sensibility of hard work, common sense, and good citizenship. (The Gerald R. Ford presidential library is there, after all.) Then there's the part of Grand Rapids where you'll find the future. At Haworth, Herman Miller, and Steelcase — three companies that together make more than half the country's office furniture — they're busy creating new ways for us to live, work, travel, and learn.
These companies understand a simple reality: the offices, furniture, and tools that we all take for granted are obsolete, vestigial remains of an Industrial Age that organized work and life into discrete, repeatable operations. But knowledge work plays by different rules. And the first casualty of technology is the traditional work environment. The old office, the old desk, the old organization of work are history — "We've Seen the Future of Work" — here comes the future!
Or spend some time this summer in San Diego and Chicago. Another victim of the future is the old politics. As Republicans and Democrats gather for their presidential conventions, it's hard to escape the feeling that what they say just doesn't matter the way it once did. Asked about the choice between Bob Dole and Bill Clinton, Sun Microsystems CEO Scott McNealy says, "It's like one particle of dust touching another particle of dust in the universe. That's the choice we have."
The old political machine, another artifact of the Industrial Age, is grinding to a halt, badly mismatched against the challenges and promises of the Information Age. Meanwhile, in California's Silicon Valley and Michigan's Automation Alley, business leaders in touch with technology and teamwork are not only debating a social agenda for the country that genuinely matters — they're also creating it. Business leads politics into the future.
You can end your tour in the Mojave Desert. You might not expect to find the future at an army training facility — but there it is: the world's most advanced learning laboratory for leadership and change. Widely credited with reinventing the army after the debacle of Vietnam, the National Training Center teaches lessons equally applicable to war and business — not the least of which is, in order to learn, you've got to fail. Sprinkled throughout the rest of this issue of Fast Company are glimpses of the future in some other unexpected places: the curriculum from a business school in Colombia that matches nation-building with company-building; lessons on the smartest way to hire the ablest people; insights from two companies that are racing into the future, competing on the need for speed.
Can't see the future from where you're sitting? Take a look in here.
Business's Friendliest Pages
If you have time to read only one section of one business magazine, then you should make it NetWork. Created with equal parts skill and equanimity by Senior Editor Bill Breen, NetWork occupies the last one-third of Fast Company. Practically a magazine-within-a-magazine, NetWork has four sections. In ToolBox you'll find a collection of books, software, conferences, and other resources to equip you to address business challenges. NeoLeisure recognizes that businesspeople today like their work to be fun and their fun to be challenging — and offers a complete package to help you take up a new sport or upgrade your skills at a current passion.
The advice you'll find in Power Tools goes beyond the typical "thumbs up, thumbs down" evaluation of gadgets and gizmos; this isn't technology for technology's sake. Instead, we're looking to use technology in innovative ways to improve your performance or solve your problems. The same mind-set applies to FC.Net. At this point, who isn't benumbed by the proliferation of brain-dead Web reviews and Internet promotions? FC.Net aims to show you how to use your Web connections to make a difference. (Now that's really different!)
All in all, we think it's a package that makes NetWork the friendliest, most useful pages of any business magazine anywhere.
A version of this article appeared in the August/September 1996 issue of Fast Company magazine.