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From The Editor: The Messy Business of Innovation

What do you get when you cross a 1,500-calorie burrito, distinctive eyeglasses, and a magical milieu? If you said, "Harry Potter with a stomachache," you’ve got the makings of a schoolyard quipster. But if you answered Chipotle, Google, and Starbucks, well... You’ve already read this issue.  

Fact is, business success in today’s age of flux increasingly requires messiness—or, more precisely, a tolerance for messiness. If you can get comfortable with uncertainty, opportunity beckons. In "Chipotle’s Secret Menu," staff writer Mark Wilson uses the legend of a megaburrito to explain how "a giant chain, with more than 1,400 stores and annual revenue of $2.7 billion... Counts on employees to make ad hoc decisions in response to consumer demand." In "Starbucks’s Leap of Faith," staff writer Austin Carr shows how a company more than 10 times larger than Chipotle "seems to almost court risk in its willingness to move fast and push through innovation at scale."

Among the lessons in this year’s Most Creative People list: how TV has reasserted itself as quality enter­tainment. Go here for a behind-the-scenes look at shows like Homeland, New Girl, and Justified.

This runs in the complete opposite direction of the natural impulse of most executives, who look for models and formulas to emulate, who desire clear, safe routes through our fast-changing economic landscape. But this instinct is self-defeating. What’s required is flexibility, as Farhad Manjoo writes in "Google Is Winning." Manjoo explains how a fluid, multitentacled effort has put Google on unexpectedly strong footing compared with rivals such as Apple and Facebook. "Not all of these projects will pan out—maybe none will," Manjoo notes, acknowledging the messiness CEO Larry Page is seeking to encourage and manage. But "even if it doesn’t take every battle, the strategy puts Google in the lead."

Which brings us to the central theme of this issue: creativity. In an era in which best-laid plans are quickly disrupted, the need for new tactics is constant. And that creates a need for constant inspiration. Our 100 Most Creative People in Business come from across all industries and around the globe; as they share their experiences in our pages, we hope they inspire yours. As in the four prior years, the 2013 edition features only people who haven’t been on any previous lists or profiled in our magazine before. And still, there was no shortage of mind-blowing candidates: from TV’s Connie Britton (Nashville), Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad), and Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele (Key & Peele); to folks from outfits as diverse as Ford, Twitter, Dropbox, Live Nation, the NFL, the NBA, Yahoo, Samsung, American Express, Foursquare, Big Machine Records, Spotify, Gap, and dozens of companies you may not know, including a wonderfully named fashion blog, Man Repeller.

We gave this year’s No. 1 ranking to data king Nate Silver, whose blog on the New York Times website so spectacularly predicted the outcome of last fall’s elections. Silver has also parsed big data to great success, forecasting sporting events and business trends. But in our story, he talks eloquently about the limitations of data and the shortsighted, reflexive assumption that data can solve all problems. In other words, he talks about how creativity needs to be applied to find true meaning from our growing world of numbers. Which is why the real answer to a question like the one I posed at the top has to be, "I don’t know, and neither does anyone else." That’s what makes living now so exciting and full of possibility.

Robert Safian

A version of this article appeared in the June 2013 issue of Fast Company magazine.