What more telling icon was there of the New Economy boom and bust than the Pets.com sock puppet? The feisty pooch debuted in Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade in 1999 and made a pricey television cameo at the 2000 Super Bowl. A dog of few words, he nonetheless spoke to the excess and irrational thinking that came to pervade the New Economy.
First-mover advantage? The pup was all over that one. Grab eyeballs and establish a brand as quickly as possible, regardless of the cost: That's why it made sense to drop at least $2 million on a Super Bowl ad even as Pets.com was losing twice that much every month. The profits, surely, would come later. Except, of course, they never did. A year after Pets.com debuted, the sock puppet was out of a gig.
That's why we put the puppet, now obviously older and wiser, on our cover this month. As we emerge from an economic and idea recession, it's exactly the right time to reassess the core concepts of the New Economy, true or false, smart or inane.
Fast Company is perfectly positioned to make such an assessment. This magazine was born with and for the New Economy. We were among the first to recognize that the economy and the workplace had changed profoundly. We also were, admittedly, among the New Economy cheerleaders whose interpretation of that change proved too optimistic.
Optimistic, that is, but not entirely wrong. Many of the ideas that came out of the New Economy were, like our sock-puppet pal, consigned to marginal employment. With the benefit of considerable hindsight, though, we find that the New Economy still has much to teach us.
It wasn't that the slogans and hyperbole were baseless—more that they turned out to be true in ways we didn't expect at the time. Technology, including the Internet, did in fact yield vast gains in productivity, which persist—to the amazement of many—even today. But those impressive gains have failed to flatten the ups and downs of business cycles as some New Economy prophets once predicted.
Or consider the notion, made popular in this magazine, of the Brand Called You. This signature story in 1997 argued that we should imagine ourselves as brands and manage our professional lives accordingly. Often discredited, if not ridiculed, as unemployment climbed higher, that idea turns out to be every bit as relevant now as it was then. The difference, as author Tom Peters points out, is that in good times, the Brand Called You was a luxury. Now, as companies continue to discard people like used Kleenex, you have no choice but to actively market your personal brand. No one else will do it for you.
Amid the crash of the dotcoms, it was difficult to see these truths. The boom's excesses and its devastating collapse led many to reject wholesale even what was real. Fast Company too was guilty of overreacting. In September 2002, as part of a major redesign intended to better reflect a sober new reality, we abandoned the distinctive logo that had been the face of the magazine since its debut in 1995. That was a mistake—one that we're correcting with this issue.
The newly designed logo echoes our original look, reminding readers and the marketplace of our heritage as a very different kind of business magazine. It helps to reinforce our mission as the idea-driven business magazine that is provocative, meaningful, optimistic, and fun. It's bolder and more engaging, dynamic, and elegant. The change completes a quiet transformation in the design of the magazine over the past six months—a transformation led by our new art director, Dean Markadakis.
It's also our way of putting behind us what management thinker Tom Davenport calls a "protracted hunkering-down phase," a time when many leaders lost their enthusiasm for new thinking. As the economy bounces back, it's important to remember the best and worst of that remarkable era. And it's just as important to move confidently forward into a new period of growth and prosperity. The sock puppet would approve.
A version of this article appeared in the March 2004 issue of Fast Company magazine.