Let’s face it, 2001 just plain sucked. Unemployment shot up, while the markets collapsed. The nation suffered through the nightmare of September 11. Then, as if the gods decided that no annus horribilis would be complete without just one more devastating event, Enron killed whatever postbubble corporate credibility remained when it filed for the largest U.S. bankruptcy on record (until WorldCom topped it).
Whew! By the time Valentine’s Day rolled around in 2002, our battered psyches were desperate to soak up some gooey goodness. And that’s exactly what Fast Company readers got when we warmly proclaimed that “Love Is the Killer App.”
Even today, if you need a quick mental hug, just pull out that cover and gaze at the reassuring, oversized pink heart being cuddled by the closest thing to a hip corporate teddy bear we could find: a most soulful-looking Tim Sanders, the Yahoo exec who coined the “killer app” line and wrote the cover story. If that image alone doesn’t get the happy juices flowing, then just read the pink all-caps text below the headline: “Why faith beats fear, greed isn’t good, and nice guys finish first. Really.”
When we were all sucking our collective thumbs and curling into defensive fetal positions, the idea that “the most powerful force in business is love” acted as the perfect security blanket. But now that life has mostly returned to normal, can we still say that love — as a business concept — is everlasting?
“I wouldn’t say that this idea of love in business is a fad, but it is part of a cycle,” says Sanders today. “For 20 years, we had ‘greed is good.’ That was also part of a cycle. Maybe now the pendulum has swung the other way.” As evidence that love — or something like it — really is here to stay, Sanders, who recently left Yahoo to hit the guru circuit full time, points to Google’s rise to the top, while Wal-Mart is experiencing a backlash for its relative heartlessness.
And the lovebug certainly bit our readers. Sanders keeps the email address he listed in the issue because he receives notes from readers to this day. He’s had about 6,000 messages — 4,800 in the first week after publication — the vast majority of them positive.
One of those writing in was Tara Harvard, a buyer for Tesoro Petroleum Corp. in Anacortes, Washington.
Harvard wistfully recalled that her most memorable business experiences happened when “love was the true focus of the operation.” Harvard’s still a devoted “lovecat extraordinaire” (lovecat being the moniker that Sanders’s book version of Love Is the Killer App bestows on followers), though in the intervening years she has come to understand that love “isn’t a business concept, it’s a way of life.” In other words, compassion and empathy aren’t management tools to be pulled out when needed; they’re character traits most great leaders possess.
But anytime you wear your heart on your sleeve (or your cover), you’re bound to draw a few arrows. Critics countered that companies use the language of love to avoid actually having to act compassionately. That is to say, a company might profess its undying love — “people are our most important asset” or “customers are king” — when it really just wants to screw you.
Sanders, who has just published a new self-help book called The Likeability Factor (Crown, 2005), admits, “Love was a tough word for a business title.” But whether you’re talking love or like, the fundamental concept of both books, he says, revolves around the law of reciprocity. As the Beatles lyric goes, “The love you take is equal to the love you make.”
So why didn’t Sanders just drop “love” from the first book’s title to keep the critics at bay? “Lots of people involved wanted to drop it, but then my wife said, ‘No, without that title it’ll never get on the cover of Fast Company.’ ” Touche.
— Tim Sanders, Yahoo chief solutions officer, February 2002