It is said that as people age, they become more like themselves. I like to think of this as a happy phenomenon — and something that can be true not only for individuals but for magazines as well.
Fast Company has long championed the maverick, that remarkable man or woman who sees the world differently than the rest of us do. Mavericks sense opportunities that others miss. They change and break the rules. They make us uncomfortable — and they make things happen. After three dreary years of economic malaise and business scandal, and amid the sorry emergence of Donald Trump as executive role model, the time is ripe to celebrate true maverickdom.
In this issue, we bring you distinctive profiles of two of the most influential mavericks of our age: Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos and design guru Michael Graves. And with those stories, we once again prove our own maverick streak. Fast Company sees the world differently; it is a magazine keenly focused on moving minds, not markets.
Our cover story, "Inside the Mind of Jeff Bezos," is that rare piece of illuminating writing that takes you inside the head of a visionary leader. We don't admire Bezos so much because he has survived the excesses of the dotcom era to build an enduring company, although he certainly has done that. For us, what's more telling is his astonishing self-confidence and optimism in the face of critics who once thought Amazon was a goner. We admire him, too, because from the start he has had the guts to tell Wall Street that Amazon would not be run for the short term.
Alan Deutschman, our new senior writer based in San Francisco, shows us exactly how this seminal figure in American business thinks. Bezos's approach to decision making embraces the inherent tension between leading and managing. He straddles the divide between obsessive, quantitatively driven strategy and the wild, intuitive guess. Depending on the situation and the challenge, Bezos can be hyperrational or full of faith, left- or right-brained, short or long term. Alan's analysis of those contradictions gets to the heart of genius. In one story, we answer two important questions: How does Amazon work? And how does genius work? (A third question still mystifies: What's with Bezos's laugh?)
Just as Bezos has demonstrated the full power of the Internet, Michael Graves has shown us the power of great design. His witty and whimsical creations — from a singing teakettle for Alessi to the Dolphin and Swan Hotels at Disney World — have become true American icons. But after a lifetime of remarkable creative achievement, Graves confronted tragedy when a spinal-cord infection left him paralyzed.
"Design for Living," by senior writer Linda Tischler, is a poignant and inspiring tale, a story of courage, collaboration, and resilience. It is the story of an organization that successfully carried on the creative work of its founder when many — colleagues and customers alike — wondered if Graves or his firms would survive his illness. It is also the story of a creative genius who came to understand how precious every minute in life can be.
These are both great stories — but not just great stories. Each one serves up any number of ideas and lessons that readers can bring to their own work and lives. They meet our three-rule test for any Fast Company article: to inform, to influence, and to inspire. From Bezos, we learn how to create a world-class organization against the grain of conventional wisdom. From the Graves article, we get both a vision of one man's passion and brilliance, and a primer on organizational resiliency.
As Bezos and Graves have aged, they have become more like themselves — more inventive, more obsessive, more courageous. And so has Fast Company. As ever, it's our mission to deliver the tools and the ideas to help each of you make a meaningful difference in a constantly changing world.
A version of this article appeared in the August 2004 issue of Fast Company magazine.