The Next Agenda - Introduction

News and insights from last year's Agenda setters. Plus the Agenda Honor Roll.

It is one of the trademarks of the new economy: You can play the game almost any way you choose. You can craft a business model that shocks your competitors. You can commit your operation to delivering customer service that delights your clients. You can think global from the day that you open your doors. You can find a local niche that the global giants have overlooked and turn it into your own private enterprise zone. The way that you position your company, the way that you brand your operation, the way that you differentiate your product or service from others on the market — today more than ever, those critical factors of success are a matter of personal choice, personal expression, and personal work style.

But.

Don't neglect The Agenda. What we call The Agenda encompasses the themes that define work that matters. Here at Fast Company, over the past four years, we've noticed some important, instructive patterns — patterns that suggest not only what it takes to play the game differently but also what it takes to play the game better. For that matter, they suggest not only what it takes to play the game better but also what it takes to win.

Whenever we visit a company, almost invariably we can figure out right away just how fast it really is. The answers to four questions tell the story:

What kind of leadership does the company practice?

What does the company do to build teamwork into its way of doing business?

Does the company embody social values that give it a powerful sense of purpose?

How does the company integrate technology into the way that its people operate?

Every April for the past three years, we've identified people, teams, and organizations whose answers to those questions serve as examples for the rest of us to follow. (For an update on previous Agenda setters, see page 206.) This year's Agenda setters offer both inspiration and instruction: They choose to do things in their own way — and the way that they do things yields vital lessons on our four fundamental themes: grassroots leadership, total teamwork, social justice, and people and technology.

At the Ford Motor Co., in Dearborn, Michigan, Stew Friedman is pioneering a grassroots leadership program that seeks to produce not only a powerful, ongoing wave of change but also a cascading flow of new, revolutionary leaders.

At Imagination Ltd., in London — a company in which only four people have formal job titles — an eclectic group of designers, architects, choreographers, writers, and others are creating seamless brand experiences through the practice of total teamwork.

At Pioneer Human Services, in Seattle, revenues of roughly $52 million are generated through a wide range of businesses — everything from sheet-metal factories to catering services — and human lives are rescued from drug addiction and crime through the businesslike application of social justice.

And at MicroStrategy Inc., in Vienna, Virginia, top leaders are committed to building an environment around "real-time intelligence" — around technology that delivers information to people at precisely the moment when they need it most.

These companies are changing the game. You can too: What rules do you want to play by?

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