Taking risks is at the core of every successful business: To create and innovate — and outdo the competition — you need to delve into new, often uncomfortable situations. Yet at a time of economic uncertainty such as today, risk taking can seem particularly difficult. What better moment for a three-part examination of the topic?
For the cautionary tale, there is no more fertile an example than Dead Man Walking. An exposé of AOL's recent miscues, the article illustrates how fear of risk, taking unwise risks, and an unwillingness to stick with risks worth taking doomed an opportunity for revival.
A different dynamic is at play in Project Rehab. Staff writer Danielle Sacks explains the decision of Liz Claiborne Inc.'s young CEO to bring on business neophyte Tim Gunn of reality TV's Project Runway as chief creative officer, along with wild-card designer Isaac Mizrahi. With Liz Claiborne's earnings and stock price slumping, Sacks writes, it's still unclear whether hiring Gunn "was an act of desperation or inspiration."
And then there's senior writer Ellen McGirt's look at the brand of Barack Obama. Even if Obama fails to make it to the White House, McGirt argues, the success of his long-shot political campaign points the way toward a new marketplace and workplace reality that future-focused businesses would be wise to embrace.
We recently embraced a risky change of our own here at Fast Company: Our online partner, FastCompany.com, has taken the radical step of melding social networking with our magazine journalism; Fast Company pioneered that approach back in the 1990s with a program called the Company of Friends but unwisely let it atrophy. That mistake has been remedied, and the site now boasts best-of-breed functionality on an open-source platform called Drupal. As Ed Sussman, the mastermind behind the new FastCompany.com and head of Mansueto Digital Ventures, wrote on his blog announcing the relaunch, "Starting today, we become the first major media Web site to tackle the following problem: Can a business publication blend journalism and online community to create something better than either by itself?"
I urge you to visit FastCompany.com, fill out a profile, and try it out. You'll see my profile there along with those of all the other Fast Company magazine staffers. There are multiple arenas where you can share your voice and connect directly with us and with one another. FastCompany.com is an interactive conversation about what really matters in our fast-paced, news-obsessed world — not unlike, we hope, the experience you have with this magazine. Feel free to email me your reactions at the address below — or reach out to me on the Web site. Nothing ventured, nothing gained!
A version of this article appeared in the April 2008 issue of Fast Company magazine.