There was a time when innovation wore the uniform of the revolution. When the operating assumption was that any smart, young whippersnapper of a company could overthrow its big, old, slow rivals through raw creative power. When innovation happened outside the box, outside conventional wisdom, and sometimes outside the realm of reason. That was then — and this is now.
Innovation today is about thinking inside the box. It can mean operating inside a big company and finding ways to leverage its resources to bring new ideas to mass markets.
Serious innovation is the theme of this issue of Fast Company — as it is the leitmotif of business today. It is the way that Jerry Putnam, founder and CEO of Archipelago Holdings, is building an alternative to Wall Street. He's no wild-eyed revolutionary. He's using rules set down by the SEC to launch a stock exchange that is faster, cheaper, and more transparent than the Nasdaq and the Big Board. He's innovating inside the box.
Chet Huber is Jerry Putnam's counterpart at General Motors — only Huber is innovating inside the car. His mission: Bring new technology to a mass market. Stay on the cutting edge of change but maintain a businesslike approach. And do it in the biggest manufacturing company in the world. It's a classic example of how to win using discipline and creativity.
The story of John Boyd is another tale of old thinking applied to new times. As a fighter pilot, "40 Second" Boyd bet that he could win any dogfight in less than 40 seconds — and he never lost that bet. His secret weapon: the OODA loop, a tool for strategy that fits perfectly in a time when business feels like a dogfight. Just as relevant is the never-before-told story of the McAlester Army Ammunition Plant, the source of nearly every nonnuclear bomb that the United States uses. The facility itself may appear to be old, even dilapidated. But the people who work there are remarkable Americans — and plainspoken innovators.
This issue gives you more new-old innovation: Meet Rob McEwen, a member of our Fast 50, who combined the newest principles of the Internet with an old industrial pursuit — mining for gold. And look at Seagate Technology, one of the oldest disk-drive manufacturers — a company that has found the solution to the innovator's dilemma.
The times are more cautious. Results matter more than ever, and innovation is more important, not less. So learn how to think inside the box — to deliver creative results with more-businesslike techniques.
A version of this article appeared in the June 2002 issue of Fast Company magazine.