A Call to Remember
I knew I was on the right track for a story on W.L. Gore & Associates ("The Fabric of Creativity," page 54) when I called the main number and asked to speak with the director of public relations. "We don't have job titles here," said the switchboard operator. Well, of course not, I thought. This is a company that has done away with the hierarchical chain of command — a place that doesn't believe in ranks, titles, even bosses. I wanted to see for myself how the maker of Gore-Tex fabrics, a billion-dollar operation, could function without the usual structures.
My problem was that even as a change-craving Fast Company writer, I had trouble breaking free from the old mind-set of traditional org charts. I felt flustered. How was she supposed to direct my call? Did the operators have to know everyone who worked there at HQ and what exactly they did? Apparently, yes. She calmly asked me to explain in some detail who I was and what I needed, then assured me that she would find the right person to call me back quickly. And she did. Gore can work without job titles because the people there take the time to get to know one another and the sometimes idiosyncratic roles that each one plays on his team. It's a company where everyone — even the switchboard operator — has to spend a lot of time communicating with colleagues and taking an active interest in what's happening around them. That culture is the key to Gore's long history of innovation. Alan Deutschman
At first glance, innovation doesn't appear to be one of those topics that can be quantified and ranked ("The Fast Company/Monitor Group Innovation Scorecard," page 65). After all, how can you compare inventing the next great network router, for example, with coming up with a new breakfast cereal? (For one thing, routers don't come in honey-crunch versions.)
But we persisted because we get a little stubborn when we don't get our morning sugar fix. And fortunately, we asked some pretty innovative people for help. Monitor Group's Innovation Management Inc. unit actually has been measuring innovation for years, impressively nosing out nonpublic data through a variety of research strategies. The real question, the one that made even the brainy global consultants a little queasy, wasn't how to create the metrics per se, but how to apply them to thousands of companies across diverse industries.
The answer: one step at a time. Innovation, we decided, is an activity that lends itself to comparison within industries but not across them. This month, we assess the telecom-equipment industry. We'll take on other key sectors every three months. We're grateful to Adi Alon and his team at Monitor — first, for buying into our crazy idea, but more for the outstanding work they've done since. Rest assured, we'll be keeping them busy. Keith H. Hammonds
What's a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst doing in the pages of Fast Company? ("Corporate Shrink," page 40) I'm not a coach; I bring a decidedly clinical perspective to my work. But what I do isn't treatment, either. I get people to think and talk about the soft stuff: personalities, culture, authority relationships, competition, creativity, succession. This is what I try to write about in my column.
How I got here is a bit of a crazy story. I became a consultant by accident, when a guy at a cocktail party started talking to me about his business and asked me to consult. I told him he was obviously out of his mind, but he persisted. I tried it and got hooked. One thing led to another — and I got lucky — and now I spend my time advising CEOs, corporate directors, hedge-fund partners, entrepreneurs, and the like on psychological aspects of their organizations.
I just wish FC would give me more space! Psychoanalysts do a lot of listening, but when we get a chance to talk, we have a lot to say. Kerry J. Sulkowicz
A version of this article appeared in the December 2004 issue of Fast Company magazine.