It's a new year — so what's new? At Fast Company, the new year brings with it a renewed commitment to listening and to responding. We listen: With each issue, we get a torrent of email that tells us which themes are most compelling to our readers. From the roughly 9,300 members of the Company of Friends, who meet in nearly 100 cities around the world, we learn which issues are foremost on their minds. At our Real Time events, we hear in person about the projects and priorities of hundreds of people in the Fast Company community. And we tap into the online conversations held by some of the thousands of people who visit our Web site (http://www.fastcompany.com).
And we respond: We bring to the magazine, to the conferences, and to the Web site new ideas and new tools that will equip you to work in the future — by helping you not only to draw upon the best practices and the latest techniques, but also to pursue a career trajectory, a personal agenda, and (yes) a life of your own making.
This first issue of 1999 reflects that commitment. Take the cover story, Sanity Inc. — Charles Fishman's in-depth look at the practices that make SAS Institute Inc. the sanest company in America. In the America of Norman Rockwell, people sought (and found) freedom from want; similarly, people today seek (and only occasionally find) freedom from workplace insanity. More and more of us are taking part in a conversation that sounds like this: "How's it going?" "Great! I've never worked so hard, done so much, or been so pumped up about what I'm doing! I just wish I had time for a life." That exchange, heard and overheard at gatherings all over the world, is what triggered our journey to SAS, where people work hard, earn a good living, make world-class products — and have a life beyond the office.
Of course, for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. So we flipped SAS over and found Insanity Inc. The hyperactive, hyperdynamic, hypergrowth folks at Trilogy Software Inc. are smart, young, and talented; they're running faster, leaner, and harder than ever before; and they aim to outwork, outperform, and outcelebrate everyone else in their highly competitive field. The story of Trilogy, as told by Chuck Salter, suggests that the pushback from those who want to get a life faces its own pushback — from those for whom the thrill of the hunt is alive and well.
The contrast between these two companies is part of what stimulated us to ask, in the issue's Unit of One section, What's New, What's Not? Working in the future requires knowing about the past. From the insights of 12 trendsetting business leaders, you'll learn that the door to the future swings in both directions.
Two other pieces in this issue suggest a confluence of the old and the new. What's Your Story? asks Daniel H. Pink, in the piece that opens our Report from the Future. Storytelling goes back to the beginning of humankind — to the essence of how we make meaning, share dreams, and create reality. Computing reaches as far forward into the future as our imaginations will take us. Combine the two, and you get digital storytelling: an old-new way for people to gather around an electronic campfire.
An appreciation of the link between language and reality is also at the heart of The Power of Words, Harriet Rubin's compelling profile of Fernando Flores. A former Chilean finance minister and a onetime political prisoner, Flores believes in the proposition that language matters — that words become commitments and that commitments generate behavior. In order to transform organizations and to achieve competitive results, Flores taps the oldest, deepest roots of human understanding: the way we talk to one another, the words we use, the commitments we make.
As we head into a new year, we at Fast Company see a world where people want to work sanely, while still feeling the rush of insanity; a world where technology makes everything new, but where the most ancient stories continue to connect us all — a world where working in the future also means catching up with the past.
A version of this article appeared in the January 1999 issue of Fast Company magazine.