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The Meaning of Business

What’s your mission?

The Meaning of Business
The secrets of Generation Flux: How passion and purpose unlock opportunity (from left: Sallie Krawcheck, Jared Leto, Casey Gerald, and Robert Wong) [Photos: João Canziani]

My parents got divorced when I was young. My mom was a bit of a hippie. My dad was a stockbroker. Perhaps it makes sense that I’ve become a business journalist.

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That wasn’t my plan. When I got out of college, I thought I’d write for The New York Times or The New Yorker. The opportunities didn’t fall that way for me. I became an editor at Fortune and Money. At Time, I oversaw the business coverage.

I’m happy that this is where I’ve landed. In fact, I love it. I’ve become a believer that business is the driving force for progress in modern culture. It’s energizing to be at an organization like Fast Company that is dedicated to encouraging that progress, through our print and digital articles, our live events, and our growing advisory business. I tell my staff, “We’re not in business to make money; we make money so we can stay in business.”

Not all enterprises embrace that sense of mission, but the ones that do have shown that it is, paradoxically, a highly effective way to deliver financial success. We are living through The secrets of Generation Flux: How passion and purpose unlock opportunity an era of historic upheaval. The pace of change, globally, has never been more rapid. It is unsettling to some, enticing to others. Either way, it is unavoidable.

The Four Generation Flux Covers: 1. Sallie Krawcheck, Chair of Ellevate Network; 2. Robert Wong, Executive creative director, Google Creative Lab; 3. Jared Leto, actor, musician,
& tech investor and 4. Casey Gerald, CEO, MBAs Across America

In recent years, I’ve been studying this era through the lens of what I call Generation Flux, the people who are embracing the velocity of change and finding ways to adapt to it. Most of us would prefer it if clear rules and systems could predict success–in life and in business–but those myths have been punctured. Yet that doesn’t mean models of inspiration don’t exist.

Fast Company tries to be one of them, and in this issue’s cover story I’ve tried to provide a philosophical and practical framework for managing our choices. Life and business can’t be separated anymore (maybe they never really could). Today, we all need to appreciate the layered, sophisticated interaction between the personal and the professional in order to make the most of both.

Not long ago, I gave a talk to a group of pharma executives in which I emphasized the generosity and clarity of their purpose: to help improve and extend people’s lives. A CEO came up to me afterward to thank me, admitting that mission often gets forgotten in the quest for sales growth and other financial metrics. Yet there’s no reason that mission and monetary results have to be at odds.

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What’s your mission? And how are you living it? These are questions we may not ask ourselves often enough. We should.

About the author

Robert Safian is editor and managing director of the award-winning monthly business magazine Fast Company. He oversees all editorial operations, in print and online, and plays a key role in guiding the magazine's advertising, marketing, and circulation efforts.

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