Let's face it: most awards that magazines give out are lame. They consist of endless rankings based on backward-looking metrics: the biggest, the most profitable, or the most valuable companies of the previous year. Or they consist of long listings based on random opinion: the most admired, the most innovative, or the "coolest" companies in the world. Or, like a high-school popularity contest, they rank people: the most admired managers, the toughest bosses, the most powerful dealmakers. They're fun, they're entertaining, they're guaranteed to get attention (hey, we all love contests, right?). But what value do those lists create for readers?
At Fast Company, we're not opposed to awards, recognition, or hoopla. We just want them to mean something. Which is why we've done our recognition program a little... differently. First, in dubbing our awards The Agenda, we've tried to change the conversation about who and what deserves recognition. Together, our four categories - grassroots leadership, humane technology, total teamwork, and sustainable growth - suggest a worthwhile way of looking at the new world of work.
At a time when change is fast, powerful, and relentless, when the flow of information is overwhelming, when anything seems possible, these categories suggest what matters: not just what is doable, but what is worth doing. These four themes form an agenda for the years ahead that is relevant and significant, a program for action in the workplace that could materially affect your future.
Second, in selecting the people, teams, and companies worthy of recognition, we used a process that reflects the founding mission and spirit of Fast Company. Two years ago, when we launched the magazine, we envisioned a community of people with shared aspirations, shared values, and shared sensibilities, all looking for a place to come together. To find The Agenda's companies highlighted in this issue, we tapped into that community. We emailed the global network of Friends of Fast Company - leading businesspeople, provocative writers, out-of-the-box thinkers, and cutting-edge educators - asking them for nominations in each of the four categories. We were flooded with responses - which means not only that our network is ready, eager, and willing to share what it knows but also that we are supplied with a deep reservoir of innovators on which to draw for future issues. We also posted an announcement on the Web and published a ballot in the magazine, and drew a considerable number of responses on both fronts.
Third, in making the final selections, we used the criteria that inform every issue of Fast Company: What will our readers learn from these articles? Will they find both inspiration and application: new ways to think grounded in new ways to work?
The people, teams, and companies that we recognize in this issue pass the test. From Steve Miller of Royal Dutch/Shell, you'll learn the reason why grassroots leadership is the only organizational model that makes sense for a future in which change and adaptability are the only givens - and you'll learn how you can build your own cadre of grassroots leaders. From David Duffield and the people at PeopleSoft, you'll learn how to use cutting-edge technology to make your workplace more productive - and also more energized, more humane, and more fun. From Al West and his colleagues at SEI Investments, you'll learn about the hard work of total teamwork - from a company that is so fast and flexible that everything in its offices is on wheels. From Ray Anderson of Interface Inc., you'll discover the powerful logic behind a 21st-century capitalism that is grounded in sustainability - and also the practices that make it possible to link economic growth and profitability to the wise and waste-free use of natural resources.
So here's The Agenda, our choice of four for the future. The real question, of course, is, What's your agenda? Have you thought carefully, purposefully, and seriously about what really matters to you - for your own development and for that of your organization? And, in the spirit of those we recognize in this issue, are you prepared to execute that agenda, to make a difference in an area that matters to you? Let us know what you think: Visit the Fast Company Web site and show your commitment to the future of business.
A version of this article appeared in the April/May 1998 issue of Fast Company magazine.