For the past three years, Fast Company has been celebrating the virtues of being fast — without slowing down to talk about what "fast" means. In this issue, we present a special feature, called "Who's Fast," that highlights 16 of the fastest people we know: men and women who come from various backgrounds, who work in a wide range of companies and industries, and who share an understanding of the impact that one person with vision and values can have in the new world of work. They help to define what it means to be fast.
What do we mean when we talk about being "fast"? One definition is on display in Building the New Economy, Eric Ransdell's in-depth profile of DPR Construction Inc., a general contractor that genuinely qualifies as a fast company. In the world of DPR, operating as a fast company means exactly what that phrase implies: Speed wins. By working smarter and by embracing teamwork, DPR has become faster, cheaper, and better than its competition. As a consequence, the company has grown big — fast.
There's a second definition of "fast" that you'll find in almost every issue of this magazine: "Fast" means playing the game differently. It describes a person or a company that out-thinks or out-innovates the competition — and, in the process, comes up with new answers to old questions. And you'll find a prime example of fast thinking in Gina Imperato's interview with John Sullivan, head of the human-resource management program at San Francisco State University, who teaches companies How to Hire the Next Michael Jordan. A superstar in his own right, Sullivan explains the techniques and tactics that can take you from coincidence hiring to continuous hiring — and make drafting those all-too-hard-to-find all-stars a regular slam dunk.
You can see a third definition of "fast" in Green Is Good, Lisa Chadderdon's report on the Real Goods Solar Living Center, a retail outlet based in Hopland, California that sells everything from solar panels to wind chimes — in fact, just about anything that people committed to environmentally conscious living might want or need. The center is part retail store, part learning facility, and part demonstration project for the future of environmental design and sustainable living. And what makes Real Goods Trading Co. real fast is the way company founder John Schaeffer (with help from project architect Sim Van der Ryn) has combined strong economic performance with an unyielding commitment to ecological values. Being fast, in this case, comes not from how swiftly you move but from how tenaciously you hold your ground.
But the most complete and compelling definition of "fast" that we've ever attempted appears in Who's Fast, our cover package. The remarkable men and women whom we've chosen to profile are "fast," but not because of their titles, their financial rankings, or their levels of recognition — far from it. We've dubbed them "unsung heroes and rising stars" because, chances are, you've never heard of them: They aren't CEOs, billionaires, or business-world celebrities.
They are fast because of what they do and how they do it. And how each of them does it helps to illuminate one of seven "fast" themes. To be fast is to understand the changing nature of leadership — and to practice it as a coach and teacher, rather than as "one of the toughest bosses in business." To be fast is to recognize the new logic of careers, the zigzag course that people now take in finding their way to new challenges in the world of work. To be fast is to appreciate the dire importance of innovation — and the critical value of innovative people to the future of any company.
In an economy where change is relentless, swift, and unending, "fast" means welcoming change and embracing change agents. "Fast" means acknowledging that economic change means social change — and accepting a responsibility to work for social justice as well as economic growth. Learning is another fundamental part of being fast. In fact, only by committing themselves to learning can people, teams, and companies hope to be fast by any definition. Finally, "fast" means coping. To be fast is to blur the boundaries between work and life. For that reason, all of us are looking for new ways to balance our lives and to control our destinies.
We hope that in this issue of Fast Company, you'll not only discover who's fast but also find resources to help you decide what's fast for you.
A version of this article appeared in the December 1998 issue of Fast Company magazine.