We thought it was a great idea, at first: an optical illusion. We'd put one on our cover so it would look as if the image were moving. We didn't think it had ever been done by a business magazine. We reached out to a professor in Japan who's done breakthrough work on optical illusions and consulted with a neuroscientist in Washington, D.C. We asked six artists to construct different designs. We were convinced one would be perfect for our cover story on Generation Flux.
And then one day, creative director Florian Bachleda came by my office and confessed that he wasn't sure it made sense. What did optical illusions have to do with the changing velocity of our business landscape? Was it really the best option? He could tell I was surprised, especially after all the time and energy we'd put into the concept.
That's when he invoked the "Adrien Brody rule." Brody, of course, is a gifted actor. Several years ago, he was cast for the starring role in the movie The Thin Red Line. By all accounts, he handled his scenes well. But in the editing room, director Terrence Malick practically cut him out of the film. The Thin Red Line went on to earn seven Academy Award nominations; Brody had to wait several years to get his due, for his Oscar-winning turn in The Pianist.
The point of the Brody rule: You can't make decisions based on initial assumptions or the amount of resources extended, but solely on what best meets the needs of the situation. The Thin Red Line didn't need Brody. This issue of Fast Company doesn't need an optical illusion.
The Brody rule is the kind of thing businesses will have to get more used to, as I explain in "Generation Flux". In our hypernetworked, mobile, social, global world, the rules and plans of yesterday are increasingly under pressure; the enterprises and individuals that will thrive will be those willing to adapt and iterate, in a disciplined, unsentimental way. "The Four-Year Career" offers lessons for a new kind of career development, given this unsettling environment. The other articles in this issue reinforce our emphasis of new, different, more-agile business models: from Pixar refugee William Joyce's iconoclastic studio in Shreveport, Louisiana ("The Once and Future Pixar?"), to "mHealth" innovations using smartphones ("Open Your Mouth and Say 'Aah!'") to the eccentric, nascent, yet oddly compelling arena of 3-D printing ("Meet Your Maker"). Generation Flux is a term that describes all of this—the chaotic business era that we have moved into—as well as the people who are poised to thrive in this environment.
I still get a kick out of optical illusions. But I get more of a kick out of Generation Flux and the possibilities that our future presents. I hope you'll agree.
A version of this article appeared in the February 2012 issue of Fast Company magazine.