Change — or die! You can almost hear Bill Gates's voice all the way from Redmond. He's screaming at his platoons of programmers, arms waving, eyes blazing. The future is on the line. The market for business software is slowing down, and unless the home market opens up...the consequences are ugly.
But opening up the home market means opening up Microsoft's culture. It means, wonder of wonders, letting women into the ranks. In fact, when you think about Microsoft in the year 2000, it means that the future of the boys' division (operating systems) is in the hands of the girls' division (consumer products) — because that's where the growth is. So it is change — or die! (And now that Bill and Melinda have little Jennifer to take care of, the future is really in the hands of the girls' division. You can almost hear Bill's voice again, this time screaming at a hapless nanny, "Change her — or die!")
Meanwhile, in the San Francisco offices of Levi Strauss & Company, the same message is being spoken — although much more softly. If Levi's is known for anything, it's heart. This is a company that articulates its values clearly and lives its aspirations religiously. It's also a company that realizes it has to (you guessed it) change or die! Levi's wants to change everything. It is pursuing the most ambitious, humane, dramatic big-company change program in business today.
In fact, it's the same story everywhere — around the country and around the world. In Memphis, Tennessee, at a remarkable specialty-chemicals company called Buckman Labs, CEO Bob Buckman is turning the organization upside down so it can compete on knowledge. In Tokyo, from his base at the United Nations University, business activist Gunter Pauli is working to proliferate a radically new model for manufacturing that not only changes everything — but also uses everything. In Denmark, entrepreneur Lars Kolind dis-organized his company — and keeps dis-organizing it — on the theory that no one should get too comfortable. Meanwhile back in Boston, on the campus of the Harvard Business School, Professor Len Schlesinger advises everyone who hates their boss (and that's pretty much everyone) to stop trying to change the boss — and change themselves instead! (You don't, however, have to die.)
In Fast Company
Here at Fast Company, we try to listen to the advice in our pages. We've changed offices (so please note our new mailing address and phone number). And we continue to change the magazine as we listen to feedback from readers.
For example, we've heard people ask, "What is this Report From the Future at the front of the magazine? " In the capable hands of senior editor Polly LaBarre, Report From the Future (or RFTF) equips you for your unpredictable trip into the future of business. It offers concise reports on cutting-edge tools, techniques, and ideas; new tactics and metrics to help companies improve; people whose titles, jobs, and skills suggest how we'll all be working in the years ahead.
We've also been asked, "What is this NetWork section at the back of the magazine?" NetWork, under the leadership of senior editor Bill Breen, is a user's guide to the new economy. It's the most "hands-on" part of Fast Company. NetWork consists of four parts: ToolBox, a collection of resources to help you work smarter; Power Tools, reviews of the latest and fastest technology equipment; Neo Leisure, an adventure guide to Fast Company's work hard/play hard approach to life; and FC.Net, points on and pointers to the best the Web has to offer for business.
But back to RFTF. When it comes to reader feedback, the most controversial part of Fast Company are the "factoids" that wrap around the pages of Report From the Future. "Do you expect me to turn my magazine upside down?" we've been asked. Well ... yes. If you're like us, and strange bits of data are brain food to help get you through the day, you'll enjoy them. If you think they're a nuisance and you'll be damned if you'll turn your magazine upside down — well, here's a place where you neither have to change nor die.
A version of this article appeared in the June/July 1996 issue of Fast Company magazine.