My nephew, who is in his early twenties, recently spent a year living with me and my family. He worked at a bar, busing tables and serving drinks. His experience reminded me how hard it is to choose a direction for your life, and how exciting an open field of possibilities can be. It also felt deeply familiar. Today, we all need to keep evolving in new ways and with new situations. There is no clear destination.
What do you want to be when you grow up? That's a question we were all asked as kids. Yet in many ways, it is the wrong question. Because becoming a "grown-up" is no longer a onetime achievement. It's like the storybook ending—"living happily ever after." That has always been a myth. And who would want a static life anyway? Particularly in our age of flux, standing still leads to obsolescence.
The situation is similar for businesses. As senior writer Austin Carr explains in "Facebook Everywhere," the social giant is aggressively remaking itself. We can forget, given Facebook's ubiquity, that Mark Zuckerberg launched the social network only a decade ago. Even after going public at a $100 billion valuation, getting hammered by investors, and then reorienting its operation to mobile—even after all that, Facebook remains a very young enterprise. It is in the same position as my nephew: Judging it by what it currently does is shortsighted. As Carr's analysis shows, Zuck's ambitions are captivating.
General Electric, which is 122 years old, is a very different enterprise. Yet it too is figuring out what it's going to become. As editor-at-large Jon Gertner writes in "Can Jeff Immelt Really Make the World 1% Better?," GE is embracing its own radical transformation. CEO Immelt's strategy is both broad and incremental, including building a 1,000-person tech lab outside San Francisco. Looking ahead to a sensor-filled industrial future, GE is betting that deep data and new kinds of predictive analytics can deliver small gains in multiple areas—and lead to huge advancements.
At Fast Company, we've undergone our own transformations. A few years back, we were simply a U.S.–based print magazine. Now we generate 350 articles and videos a week on our digital properties, which reach more than 10 million unique users a month globally, plus we run dozens of live events. These activities earned us recognition as Magazine of the Year from the American Society of Magazine Editors, our industry's highest honor. We're deeply gratified. But changes here are already under way. Fast Company will be different next year than it is today.
I am often asked, "What is a 'fast company'?" This is not a simple question to answer. To be a fast company is less a condition than an aspiration, a mind-set. True maturity is not about reaching a destination. It is about making the most of the opportunities in front of us.
A version of this article appeared in the July/August 2014 issue of Fast Company magazine.