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Letter from the Editor: Faith-Based Business

I may be wrong, but I'm never in doubt. That's a line I use with my staff (and my kids) to explain my decision making. It is partly in jest — of course I have doubts, just like everyone else. But sometimes you need to project confidence and inspire obedience, especially when facing a wall of skepticism.

Fast Company's editorial mission requires a measure of chutzpah. We see ourselves as champions of business activities — risk taking, innovation — that require a certain degree of faith. It is one reason we profile an enterprise like Web-video aggregator Hulu ("The Unlikely Mogul"), even though its business model is threatened by com-petition from all sides, even from its own partners. Or why, on page 51, we spotlight the rise of "augmented reality" apps, although we may be years early with our enthusiasm. Our cover story on Intel ("Intel Risks It All (Again)") fits into this category: the risky reengineering of a huge enterprise. So does our profile of economist Noreena Hertz ("Cassandra's Revenge"), whose still-evolving ideas provoke new ways of thinking about capitalism.

So why would we run an article like "The Gene Bubble," on page 116? In the piece, writer David H. Freedman takes on the innovative and admirable efforts of researchers across the globe to find cures for all manner of diseases by identifying their root causes within the human genome. The problem, as Freedman reports, is that our genetic code turns out to be far more complicated than our tools for deciphering it can handle. In other words: We've been sold a bill of goods about the near-term potential, with hype far outstripping reality. The promised miracle cures — which have attracted billions of dollars — remain decades away at best.

Two issues ago, I wrote in this space that I may be a hypocrite when it comes to education policy. My note sparked a bunch of feedback (see Feedback for a sampling). Now I find myself asking again: Am I being a hypocrite by publishing an article that, in some ways, chastises risk taking? What if this gene-bubble article were used as justification for pulling funding from some of these research projects — would that be an outcome to cheer? Or would it be a setback for projects that deserve more investment? On the other hand, isn't shedding a light on common misperceptions the responsibility of a free press?

Remember that line I use with my staff to project confidence? In this instance, I certainly seem to have doubts. So is there anything wrong with that?

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