The Future of the Company

Letter from the founding editors

What is the company of the future? It’s an old question –one that has stimulated gurus such as Peter F. Drucker to write about the “Concept of the Corporation” and Tom Peters to go “In Search of Excellence.” And it’s a new question — one that reflects the new market for talent and the fundamental redesign of the operating system inside companies.


In this issue of Fast Company, we look at the question of what takes a company into the future — and of what future-focused companies do — from a number of perspectives. An obvious place to start is in our Report from the Future, which kicks off with a look at Radical Sabbaticals –extended work-life planning exercises that let you examine your priorities. People who take a radical sabbatical may return to the same company that they left, but when they do, they are different people, with a different outlook on the future. At the same time, some companies are poised for future success because they are Designed for Innovation. Take the Pitney Bowes Credit Corp., where everything from the layout of the space to the definition of the business pushes the company’s people to go beyond the old “That’s the way we’ve always done it” thinking.

In our cover story, The Company of the Future, former U.S. Secretary of Labor Robert B. Reich tackles the issue head-on. Looking across the landscape of the new economy, he finds a fundamental shift in what a company must do to capture the future: It must attract the best people, and it must create a “social glue” that holds those people together within a workplace where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. To do so, companies need to focus on six key elements: money, mission, learning, fun, pride, and balance.

That’s a company of the future – but what if you’re mired in a company of the past? In Danger: Toxic Company, Jeffrey Pfeffer, a professor at the Stanford Business School, argues that when it comes to the link between people and profits, companies get exactly what they deserve: Toxic companies treat people like factors of production and thus create the very conditions that they deplore.

If you want to visit the auto-insurance company of the future — that’s right, “auto insurance” and “future” in the same sentence — then don’t miss Chuck Salter’s story, Progressive Makes Big Claims. Progressive competes on speed, service, and software. Its claims agents are so fast, they get to accidents even before the police arrive. When it comes to insurance, we’ve seen the future, and it’s Progressive.

We’ve also seen the future of leadership inside some of the best-run companies, and the melody we’re hearing reminds us of an old hit song: It Takes Two. According to Pamela Kruger, who visited companies in industries as diverse as video-game design, interactive marketing, and technology consulting, partnerships can be a powerful source of organizational energy and creativity. In the company of the future, two heads really are better than one.

If you want a glimpse of one individual who is absorbed in creating the future, then read about The Many Lives of a Wall Street Angel. David Dorsey profiles Bob Lessin, a financial wunderkind who survived a nearly fatal stroke – and who is now using his knowledge of Wall Street and his fresh insights into the Web to develop a strategy that connects the old economy to the new one.


The future of manufacturing is also on display in this issue. To see it, travel with Paul Roberts to the John Deere Seeding Group in Moline, Illinois, where John Deere Runs on Chaos. The giant farm-machinery company has written the book on how to combine complexity theory with mass customization. And Roberts has written about how a down-to-earth company is working far into the future.

Finally, an interview with super-negotiator Leigh Steinberg yields farsighted advice on How to Get Them to Show You the Money. Steinberg, who served as the model for Tom Cruise’s “agent with a heart” in the movie Jerry Maguire, has literally written the book on the art of negotiation. And like the movie, his new book is about Winning with Integrity. One of Steinberg’s key principles: Never humiliate the other side in a negotiation. There will always be another round — you guessed it — in the future.