The Recoveryless Jobs
Apple Computer is like an ant in a jar: undersized, yet resilient. The company furiously works to bring new things to market but forever bumps up against the glass walls of its own limitations ("If He's So Smart . . ." page 68). It may be on account of this frustrating—and surely humiliating—predicament that Steve Jobs so jealously guards his own image. As Apple's Todd Wilder told Fast Company last August, "Steve is our brand. It's natural that people are curious. We have to worry about information getting out. The element of surprise, about our next product launch or whatever, is critical to our strategy."
No surprise then that my requests for an interview with Jobs went unheeded, but when my requests to attend the annual meeting of the shareholders of Pixar—Jobs's other company—was also turned down, I decided to attend anyway. Heck, the venue for the meeting, San Francisco's Museum of Modern Art, is just blocks from our West Coast bureau. I walked right in.
Only 120 or so people attended. Most looked disappointed to learn the session would not include a trailer of Pixar's next feature, The Incredibles. Afterward, as we stood at the foot of the stage on which Jobs was fielding questions, a striking image appeared. As Jobs stood, all confidence and power, a scenic backdrop from Pixar's Finding Nemo was visible between his knees: a big shark—jaws agape—bearing down on a little orange clown fish, which, all attitude and gumption, showed no knowledge of his strategic disadvantages and imminent vulnerability. -Carleen Hawn
A Fund You Can Bank On
Fast Company has always been about more than just the story. We aim to move our readers, to involve them, to help them effect change. We expect that you'll take away many things from our groundbreaking package on the "Top Social Capitalists" beginning on page 45. And most likely, you'll wonder, "What can I do?"
Contributing writer Cheryl Dahle, who honchoed the package, wondered the same thing. It was her idea to create a way for Fast Company readers to back the efforts of the groups in our feature. Hence, the Fast Company Social Capitalist Fund. Go to www.fastcompany.com/keyword/social78, and donate directly to any of the top 20 organizations. Or give to a central fund that will provide these groups scholarships toward management education. When you make a donation, indicate which group you think is deserving; the fund will award scholarships to organizations that get the most reader support. -Keith H. Hammonds
Spinning a Yarn
Think you know what "thread count"means? So did I, until I looked a little closer. As a fact checker, I'm responsible for verifying every last name, number, and nuance of every article I see. So when Keith H. Hammonds passed me his piece on ultrafine shirts (see "Thread-Count Wars," page 31), I began to unravel an industrywide mystery.
I called retailers in their shops, then their managers in their offices. I called buyers, manufacturers, and executives. I called the editor-in-chief of Fabric Trends magazine and the director of the American Association of Textile Chemists and Colorists. No one had a straight answer. Not satisfied, I got out the magnifying glass.
Finally, in confidential whispers with a clothing manufacturer over a transcontinental phone line, I got the truth: "[Thread count] is a commercial explanation which is factually incorrect." Yarn count is the thickness of the thread; thread count, the number of threads in a square inch of fabric. Many retailers mix up the terms themselves (or bend the rules). Charles Tyrwhitt Shirts' 180 is the yarn count; the thread count is actually 314. Those pricey 800-count sheets? Might want to bust out the magnifying glass. -Lucas Conley
The Next Capitalism
I am the first person in my family to have a university education, so I eagerly called my father when I was awarded tenure and an endowed chair at the Harvard Business School. "That's wonderful, sweetheart," he said. "Is the chair comfortable?"
In some ways, it isn't. In 1979, I began an extensive research project aimed at understanding the implications of information technology for the nature of work, organization, and management. I published In the Age of the Smart Machine, and much else, on the subject. But by 1994, I no longer believed in the progressive vision of the corporation espoused in my work. Thus began a decade-long intellectual journey from which I concluded that today's managerial capitalism has reached the limits of its adaptive range. It has become the obstacle to wealth creation. The 21st century requires a new approach to business that I call "distributed capitalism."
These ideas inform my new book, The Support Economy: Why Corporations Are Failing Individuals and the Next Episode of Capitalism. I am thrilled to bring this discussion to a wider public with "Evolving"—a new column in Fast Company on the future of business and society.
When I'm not speaking, teaching, or traveling, I live on a lakeside farm in Maine with my husband and our two children. It's a laid-back, PowerPoint-free zone where we frequently host CEOs and entrepreneurs who are eager to discuss the emerging support economy. It's also a working venison farm where our kids help to tend a beautiful herd of naturally raised fallow deer, and we have a lot of fun. -Shoshana Zuboff
A version of this article appeared in the January 2004 issue of Fast Company magazine.