As 2002 slips into 2003, it's almost a requirement to do an assessment of the year gone by and a forecast of the year to come. By most accounts, 2002 was a "bad" year for business: bad financial results; bad stock-market performances; bad ethical, moral, and legal behavior by far too many CEOs and top executives. Add to all of that a bad job market, declining consumer confidence, and increasing business failures, and it's fair to say that all of the data point to 2002 having been a really bad year.
And that's the problem. Business is fundamentally a conversation. If we allow a focus on business gone wrong to crowd out any discussion of what might go right, if we allow the number crunchers to overwhelm the idea people, we make it harder to change the negative trends that we all find so, well, negative. Business conversation is the source of new ideas, new energy, and new directions. It shapes what we work on and how we work on it, day in and day out. What we talk about — with employees, with customers, and with colleagues — is a powerful force in determining what actually happens inside companies.
Which leads us to 2003. Our resolutions for 2003 are not just to change the year, but also to change the conversation — and to do it in two important ways. First, as part of our responsibility to our readers, we want to provide the context for business success. Right now, the business conversation that we're involved in is all about serious innovation: It's an honest and hopeful reflection of tougher economic times that still demand creativity. That context has been taking on a number of combinations that we've been hearing across the country. A Los Angeles - based head-hunting firm calls it "pragmatic passion." A Boston-based advertising firm calls it "practical vision." A Detroit-headquartered car company calls it "disciplined sizzle." Come up with your own combination. We think that it's about what's happening now, and, in 2003, we'll continue to show you what it looks like, why it makes sense, and how you can adopt it.
Second, beginning with this issue, we're turning the business conversation to the powerful emotions and original thinking that can create a more dynamic future. As Daniel Kahneman, last year's winner of the Nobel Prize for economics, notes (and as Marcus Buckingham develops in his contribution to IdeaFest), business is more about emotions than most businesspeople care to admit. It's time to put the passion for work and the joy of creation back into business. It's time to go back to first principles by asking, Am I working on something that I'm genuinely good at, doing work that really matters, with people whom I genuinely care about? This is the year to stop playing it safe and to start changing the game — not only to apply rigorous analysis and sober decision making, but also to supplement the "hard stuff" of business with authentic passion and flat-out joy. At some point, if work doesn't feel fun, if it doesn't give us pleasure, then it's probably not worth doing — even in a lousy economic climate.
As we said seven years ago, when we first launched Fast Company, our aim is to be the first, not the last, word on the ideas and practices that keep changing the world of work. Here we go again. Please, talk amongst yourselves!
A version of this article appeared in the January 2003 issue of Fast Company magazine.