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A Code to Live By

A Code to Live By

Facebook CEO
Mark Zuckerberg

[Photo by Stephen Lam | Reuters | Corbis]

When Fast Company first wrote about Facebook, in 2007, the service had 19 million users. Today, it has north of 1 billion. I'd like to say that we knew Facebook would become a world-changing juggernaut. We did not. But we were convinced that social media would become an increasingly important part of business and culture, and Mark Zuckerberg offered a compelling backstory we could use to engage readers. Whether Facebook ultimately succeeded or failed, the rise of social media, we believed, was unstoppable.

We have labeled Anne Wojcicki "the most daring CEO in America" because her company, 23andMe, is bringing a different new technology to consumers: low-cost DNA testing. How the accessing of our individual genetic code—at the mass-market price point of just $99 a pop—will impact medicine, the health care business, and our larger culture is far from clear. Yet like the proverbial genie in the bottle, now that this phenomenon has been released, there is no turning back.

In an age of flux, there are so many emerging technologies and newly founded companies, it is near-impossible to predict which ones will have staying power. This makes both business planning and investing not just complicated but treacherous. Our approach: Focus on those areas that combine cross-industry impact and human appeal. Facebook taps into our instinctive desire for connection and community. 23andMe's DNA test addresses our core curiosity about the dual influences of nature and nurture—and what we can do to have an impact on them.

There are deep and varied questions about how the information being unleashed by 23andMe will disrupt—for good and bad. We examine those concerns in "The DNA Revolution." As with our initial Facebook feature, we cannot definitively declare that 23andMe's specific business will triumph. But if not 23andMe, then a company like it will eventually succeed in reconfiguring many of our most basic assumptions about privacy, preventative care, and insurance.

We have advanced so far as a culture that the sophistication of today's data and machines is dwarfing capabilities that we marveled at just a few decades ago. Yet there remains so much knowledge to unlock, so many answers still ahead. As editor-at-large Jeff Chu reports in "Against the Tide," our appreciation of global environmental forces—as well as the prevalence of superstorms like Sandy and Katrina—has spawned new initiatives and techniques for protecting coastal civilizations. Chu traveled to the Netherlands, where the Dutch have been battling tidal waters for centuries and have, of late, become relied-upon expert consultants for cities from New York to Jakarta to Shanghai. Their latest breakthrough: harnessing nature itself to forestall nature's march, rather than just creating barricades to block it. But even as these wise scientists share their new understanding, they admit that each implementation remains experimental, a work in progress. A full solution is still well beyond arm's reach.

At Fast Company, our visceral response to all this transition and possibility and tumult: "How fantastically interesting!" as Dutch water guru Piet Dircke puts it. One could react to these on­going waves of change with trepidation and cynicism. That too is a natural human response. But to resist these currents, we believe, is ultimately self-defeating. Better to embrace the inevitable and hang on for the ride. It's easier to swim downstream—and a whole lot more fun.

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