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Catching The Wave

Catching The Wave

Conan O’Brien appeared (nine times!) on our June 2011 “The 100 Most Creative People in Business” cover.

I couldn’t believe the hall wasn’t standing room only. But I probably shouldn’t have been surprised. I was at the Cannes Lions International Advertising festival, and in an auditorium next door, Anderson Cooper was having an onstage dis­cussion with Conan O’Brien. That session was packed.

Meanwhile, in my forum, a little-known Chinese executive named S.Y. Lau was speaking. Who cared about him? He doesn’t have his own TV show, and isn’t likely to ever get one.

All Lau had to offer was insight into the most dynamic, fast-growing media and technology market on the planet. He runs online media at Tencent, which has grown to more than 500 million users. You’d think Tencent’s window into consumer and mobile patterns in China would seem valuable, especially to advertisers. Apparently not. (A forum hosted later that day by Arunabh Das Sharma, president of the Times of India Group, that country’s largest media company, was just as sparsely attended.)

It’s so easy to get distracted in a world that’s changing this fast, to miss the big waves until they crash on top of us. We get enticed by flash and sizzle. Amazon is one of those waves. CEO Jeff Bezos has been on myriad magazine covers (including ours), dating back nearly two decades. We all know that e-commerce has changed the way we shop. We know that the retail world has been disrupted. But as J.J. McCorvey writes in " we ain’t seen nothing yet. What Bezos and Amazon have planned—via programs such as Amazon Prime and AmazonFresh—will make today’s status quo seem archaic.

The status quo is under attack throughout this issue, even if not all of those assaults will be successful. Austin Carr’s profile of Foursquare founder and CEO Dennis Crowley, "The Lost Boy," is a telling exploration of just how hard it is to inject something wholly new into our culture. Nicole LaPorte’s inside account of Zynga’s new leadership duo—founder Mark Pincus and CEO–as-of-July-1 Don Mattrick—in reveals both the risks that young enterprises must embrace to maintain relevance and the perils facing older enterprises (like Mattrick’s former employer, Microsoft) when they resist taking them.

There are no clear road maps to what will really matter most tomorrow. Will the new windmill that Jon Gertner introduces us to in "Into the Wind," actually revolutionize the energy business? We don’t know. Just as we don’t know if Amazon’s grand plans will come to fruition quite the way Bezos hopes.

What we do know: Being curious about the new is the only way to prepare ourselves for the future. We don’t have anything against celebrity watching; we love doing it ourselves and have repeatedly gleaned insights from the well known—including Conan O’Brien, who graced Fast Company’s cover in 2011. Yet we all need a reminder at times that big things are happening in less-bright spotlights, whether in China, India, or the Pacific Northwest, home of Amazon.

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