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Letter From the Editor: Think Randomly, Execute Strategically

A delegation of Scottish CEOs came by our offices recently. They were on a four-day tour of U.S. companies — Apple, Cisco, and so forth. Their goal was both information and inspiration, about how best to keep their businesses, large and small, moving forward.

One gentleman asked me the same question several times: How do you decide what to cover in the magazine? Each time he asked, I answered with a story — why we put Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook on our cover two years ago, or boarder Shaun White earlier this year, or the confluence of events, unlikely to be repeated anytime soon, that led to our 19,000-word opus last June on China's resource grab in Africa (which has earned accolades, including an Overseas Press Club Award and a National Magazine Award nomination).

This month's issue has a story as well. Senior editor Mark Borden — who penned that Shaun White cover story as well as the profile of fast-rising Hollywood mogul McG in the May issue — is an unconventional person. His writing for the likes of Fortune and The New Yorker was punctuated by a two-year sojourn in Samoa. His style during a conversation with HP marketing exec David Roman for the White article was so unorthodox, Roman expressed skepticism to another Fast Company staffer that anything of substance had been achieved — until Borden's piece came out and Roman was shocked to see his impressions of White more elegantly and cogently articulated than he had imagined possible. Borden may present himself as if he were a blissed-out California surfer dude, yet he spent months helping management guru Marcus Buckingham report and write the best-selling book Go Put Your Strengths to Work.

Borden has an expression: "Think randomly, execute strategically." That approach (which for him may be as much description as prescription) led him to suggest an idea in a brainstorming meeting: "What if we do a list of the most creative people in business?" The idea was taken up enthusiastically by other staff members, and over the past several months, every writer, editor, reporter, designer, photo editor — everyone at Fast Company — has been researching and vetting candidates, bouncing around ideas, arguing and agreeing and cajoling one another to find the perfect blend of creatives for our list.

To use Borden's words, there is something random about our ranking of the 100 Most Creative People in Business — but that doesn't mean there isn't a strategy at work. Creativity cannot be reduced to a formula. There will no doubt be some head-scratching over how we ended up with these 100 individuals, why certain names are missing, why one person is ranked higher — or lower — than someone else. But there is a perspective embedded in our list: Taken in its entirety, it's a snapshot of the range and depth of creativity across our business landscape — a remarkable and perhaps surprising source of strength in these times of turmoil. We believe firmly that recognizing the difficult yet invigorating genesis of new ideas can have a contagious effect on business practices. The executives from Scotland warmed to our stories. We hope you will too.

A version of this article appeared in the June 2009 issue of Fast Company magazine.