Fast Talk: What’s the Biggest Change Facing Business In the Next 10 Years?

In Fast Company‘s first decade, we introduced readers to a lot of amazingly smart people. To launch our second, we asked 10 of our favorite brains what’s next–and how to get ready for it.

Malcolm Gladwell

Writer, The New Yorker magazine
New York, New York


Gladwell, 42, is author of the best-sellers The Tipping Point and Blink. His books and his articles in The New Yorker consistently offer fresh perspectives on issues businesspeople care about.
First appeared in Fast Company: January 2005

“Business has to find its national voice. It has to be engaged in the politics of this country in a way it’s not accustomed to. Right now, executives are very good at saying, ‘Cut our taxes, cut our regulations.’ And they’re really terrible at making far more important and substantive arguments about social policy. It’s time they stopped banging this one-note drum and started saying that a lot of the things that have been relegated to ideology are, in fact, matters of fundamental international competitiveness for this country.

Take, for example, health care. We are ceding manufacturing jobs to the rest of the world because we can’t get around to providing some kind of basic, uniform health insurance. Because of our strange ideological problem with nationalized health insurance, we’re basically driving Detroit out of business–which strikes me as a very counterintuitive, nonsensical policy. The simple fact is that GM and Ford and Chrysler cannot compete in the world market if they’re asked to bear the pension and health-care costs of their retirees. Can’t be done. It’s that simple.


I also think it’s time that business stood up and joined the immigration debate. I think it has been–with the exception of some high-tech firms–shamefully silent on this, which should be one of its top competitiveness issues. Congress should not be shutting down the borders at a time when we’re 10 or 15 years away from some very serious workplace shortages, skilled-labor shortages. We’ve shut the spigot off, and we’re keeping out the very people who would drive our economy 10 years out when our workforce retires en masse.

We talk about these as equity issues, as cost issues, as ideological issues, but more than anything else, they’re about competitiveness.”
–Interview by Michael A. Prospero

Barbara Ehrenreich

Key West, Florida


Ehrenreich, 64, is a cultural critic and author whose book Nickel and Dimed exposed the dark side of the service economy. Her most recent book, Bait and Switch, reveals the underbelly of white-collar work.
First appeared in Fast Company: October 2002

“There is a profound discounting of experience going on that we’re going to have to reexamine if we’re going to keep up with the rest of the world. During my research for Bait and Switch, I was told again and again that the basis of hiring is not your skills or experience, but how likable you are. The rationale is that you have to be a ‘team player’ and conform, in great detail, down to the shape of your lapel pin. In what kind of team does everyone have to be the same?

There seems to be a growing culture of incompetence where who knows whom and who likes whom weigh more than getting the job done. This is the kind of thinking that got us Michael D. Brown heading up FEMA. Even more perverse is the constant culling out of the high achievers. If you get a raise, it’s like having a bull’s-eye painted on your back. You are just an expense, and a bigger expense, so let’s get rid of you.


How will American business face the challenge of the rising economies of China and India? Those nations are emphasizing skill and a proven track record. We are not going to survive in a globalized economy if our business culture is so self-indulgently involved in preserving an internal comfort level. What did you hire me for? To keep you company in the office?”
–Interview by Jennifer Pollock

Avram Miller

CEO, The Avram Miller Co.
San Francisco, California

Miller, 61, was vice president of business development at Intel and a cofounder of Intel Capital. He played a critical role in launching broadband. He now consults on strategy and business development for consumer-focused Internet companies.
First appeared in Fast Company: June/July 1997


“The cornerstone for this millennium is the end of time and space. Most organizations today are run the same way as early-20th-century businesses. Everyone goes to his car, drives to work, has certain hours, has a certain job. It’s all built on the factory model. Moving forward, it really isn’t going to be important where you are in order to do your job. Ideas are being worked on 24 hours a day. Nobody seems surprised anymore if I wake up in the middle of the night and start IM-ing someone in Europe, because the fact is, they don’t even know where I am. And it doesn’t matter.

Fewer and fewer people will want to be employees of corporations, because corporations don’t have anything to offer. Corporations don’t provide security and provide fewer and fewer benefits. People may find new ways to sell their skills. I can imagine eBay or the equivalent of eBay being in the business of letting people bid on work all day long. Office buildings may turn into housing, or maybe individuals will rent office space as you would rent a hotel room.

And those individuals will compete with people from all over the world. This isn’t globalization, because globalization to me feels big. I think it’s the opposite, it’s villagization–making everything smaller and in some sense more intimate. And that’s very powerful. I’m totally capitalistic, but I don’t like large organizations because they tend to want to control. If this reduces the power of corporations and governments to limit what human beings can do, the thing most exciting to me is the potential for everyone to participate.”
–Interview by Danielle Sacks


Kevin Roberts

Worldwide CEO, Saatchi & Saatchi
New York, New York

Roberts, 56, is the garrulous and provocative front man of one of the world’s leading advertising companies. He’s also the author of two books: Lovemarks and his latest, sisomo: the future of the screen, a book about engaging people with visual stories.
First appeared in Fast Company: December 1998

“The dominant interface of the future is the screen. TV, the most obvious screen, is one of a family of screens–mobile devices, computers, and big Times Square billboards–engaging consumers. And they all have to work together. No one medium is going to replace another. I’ve got 2,000 creative people at Saatchi, and instead of them doing 30-second spots, I want them producing content across all the screens. The promise shouldn’t change. What should change is the context and the way it’s handled for the mobile phone or the computer, TV, or movies. But Nike should always be ‘Just do it’ no matter the medium.


When people are in front of a screen, they can either lean back or lean forward. You have to engage consumers emotionally, tell them a story, so they lean in and get involved. That’s the challenge for business going forward. Steve Jobs understands that any MP3 player does what the iPod does. But he has made his products irresistible. You’re engaged, so it doesn’t matter that the batteries still don’t work.

To pull this off, the corporate organization is going to change. No longer will there be a few people at the top, millions in middle management, and very few at the bottom. It’s going to become a lot of people at the top thinking strategy, and a lot of people at the bottom executing it against all these different segments. Sod all in the middle–it’s the end of management.”
–Interview by Joseph Manez

Donna Dubinsky

Founder and CEO, Numenta Inc.
Menlo Park, California


Dubinsky, 50, was cofounder and CEO of Palm Computing, which created the Palm Pilot, and of Handspring (now Palm Inc.), creator of the Treo smartphone. Her current company is focused on developing a new kind of computer memory system.
First appeared in Fast Company: June/July 1998

“The next generation of computing is ‘intelligent computing,’ based on the same principles as the human neocortex. The human brain works in ways fundamentally different from the way computers do today, which is why computers have never been able to realize true intelligence. The brain uses vast amounts of memory to create a model of the world. Everything you know and have learned is stored in this model. The brain uses this memory-based model to make continuous predictions of future events. It’s the ability to make predictions about the future that is the crux of intelligence. For example, when humans see a dog, they immediately know it’s a dog, even though they may have never seen that specific dog before. Even a young child can identify ‘dog’ and be very certain, but a computer still can’t. Intelligent computing will allow a computer to identify a dog the way the brain does, by building a memory model that has been exposed to many images of dogs such that it begins to actually understand what a dog is. The computer will become ‘intelligent.’

This technology will offer a fundamental new building block for the next generation of computing and business, and it could create a new vector for innovation across a great number of industries. Over the next few decades, we think the capabilities of intelligent machines will evolve rapidly and in extremely interesting directions. Intelligent computing could be used in image identification, speaker identification, data mining, security, automobile safety, robotics, and ultimately natural-language processing. Our hope is that intelligent computing will help us accelerate our knowledge of the world, let us explore the universe, and make the world safer.”
–Interview by Jennifer Pollock


Esther Dyson

Editor, Release 1.0 (for CNet Networks)
New York/Palo Alto

Dyson, 54, has hosted the influential PC Forum conference and edited the technology newsletter “Release 1.0” since 1983. She has also advised many startups. In all her roles, she has helped mold our modern technology landscape.
First appeared in Fast Company: October/November 1997

“There is an erosion of power going on. Specifically, the online world has eroded business’s power. People increasingly will personalize their Web experience and determine how they interact with their environment and the people around them. The Web creates transparency, which will make competition tougher and in turn, business better. When a company messes up, it will be very visible. People will blog about it, review it, and expose a company’s flaws and pitfalls. Businesses will have to respond to this increased transparency by hiring and retaining better people. And in any case, we’ll see a new wave of smaller companies focused on specific needs, in part because they can outsource or partner for the commodity part of their operations or offerings.


There will be a profound change in psychology as people realize how much power they hold. There has always been a general perception that we shouldn’t mess with authority– when authority is exactly who we should mess with. Empowered people are going to begin to realize this. When they walk into a Wal-Mart, they’re going to want to know how a product was made and under what conditions. They will assume they have the right to ask because they can do so on the Web. And over time, people will start to expect that same responsiveness from all institutions, not just from online businesses. What kind of tax breaks on real estate are my elected officials getting–and why? And why isn’t my hospital as responsive as a hotel?

What does all this say about individual responsibility? If people control their own lives, then they are responsible for those lives. They can’t simply complain about things being bad. In a world of choices, your responsibility does not end with complaining.”
–Interview by Jennifer Pollock

Tim Brown

President and CEO, Ideo
Palo Alto, California


Brown, 43, has helped formulate the design strategy of such companies as Motorola and Procter & Gamble. Some of his designs for the furniture manufacturer Steelcase have been shown at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
First appeared in Fast Company: July 2001

“Teams in business will be thinking about problems as design problems and tackling them like designers. Good design is the output of good design thinking, and companies will be looking to apply design thinking in many places where it hasn’t been applied before. These are the methods and approaches that designers use to solve problems, such as understanding and anticipating user needs, prototyping to evolve ideas, and using storytelling to bring ideas to life. If you look at things like the new at Stanford, those kinds of ideas are moving into business.

The implication for designers is that their responsibilities are broadening. In general, designers have thought of themselves as representing the point of view of the user, the consumer. In the future, they’re going to have to be much more sophisticated when they’re conceiving new ideas, and think about how they’re going to speak to the market and how those ideas are going to contribute to marketing rather than just sending it down the line.


Essentially, any business problem that has an audience and a tangible outcome is a candidate for design thinking. For instance, a brand manager charged with reinvigorating her brand could easily use these methods to get her ideas approved in her organization. Similarly, a CEO who wants to get his company to innovate can use the same processes to understand how his organization works today and design alternatives that are better suited to conceiving and executing new ideas. A supply-chain manager for a manufacturer could work collaboratively with his retail partner to develop new and better ways of getting the right products to the right customer at the right time.”
–Interview by Alyssa Danigelis

John Mackey

Chairman, CEO, and cofounder, Whole Foods Market Inc.
Austin, Texas

Mackey, 52, runs the nation’s leading natural and organic grocery chain, with $4.7 billion in annual sales. He is as well-known for his enlightened management practices as for democratizing access to natural foods.
First appeared in Fast Company: April/May 1996

“The world is getting more and more transparent. You’re in a fishbowl these days. You can’t hide in the boardrooms anymore. With the speed with which information can be sent around and the way activists and journalists dig and dig and dig, it’s very difficult to hide things. I think that is an irresistible trend. And it’s a healthy trend.

I figure at any given time there are a bunch of journalists writing books about us, trying to expose us for the phonies they think we are. So you have to assume everything is an open book. You better not have anything going on that if it were known, we’d be ashamed of. When there are fewer secrets, there is greater motivation to do the right thing. That’s driving business. There’s greater accountability, and more businesses are getting leadership that recognizes that we can’t hide. So we better do the right thing.

I think this is part of a larger trend, toward business having a greater responsibility in society than just maximizing profits. Customers want that, employees want that, and shareholders want that: They want businesses to be good citizens. Businesses today have a too-narrow concept of why they exist. Particularly with the scandals at the beginning of this century, historians will look back and see that business is being called upon to do more. It’s not an either-or situation–it’s not profits versus good citizenship. And right now, a new generation is becoming CEOs. Our generation.

Is that optimistic? Overly optimistic? Well, most entrepreneurs are wildly optimistic.”
–Interview by Charles Fishman

Scott Adams

Cartoonist and entrepreneur, Scott Adams Inc.
Dublin, California

Adams, 48, parlayed his experiences as a bank teller and computer programmer into the comic strip Dilbert, which appears daily in more than 2,000 newspapers in 65 countries.
First appeared in Fast Company: June/July 1998

“The world is changing, so Dilbert has to change, or else he’ll become outdated. I have to figure out if Dilbert’s going to move to India or not. The only people who will have jobs in the United States are people with creative jobs, or something that has to do with communication and sales. And more people are going to be working at home. That doesn’t work so well for me, because it’s hard to write a comic about a guy sitting at home.

Even in the office, there’s a growing preference to communicate solely by email so you can ignore all human contact. That has a lot to do with the people who read Dilbert. A lot of my people would prefer not to have any human contact, because they feel they work for and with idiots. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve met recently who state, outright, that they don’t like any people. They love technology, but they don’t like people. Some like animals. And now technology actually gives them the option of avoiding all human contact.

I guess there will always be work stuff to make fun of. The only thing I really worry about is Dilbert’s physical appearance. Between Lasik and casual clothing, I wonder how long I’m going to be able to keep him in glasses and a necktie. That’s the hardest thing to change, because he’s kind of an icon. It’d be like changing Mickey Mouse at this point. But when I go to a business conference now, there isn’t one person in the room wearing glasses. Of course, I still have them, but that’s because I’m a chicken.”
–Interview by Michael A. Prospero

Alice Waters

Executive chef and owner, Chez Panisse
Berkeley, California

Waters, 61, has had a profound influence on how America eats. Her revolutionary restaurant in California built its reputation with fresh, organic food from sustainable sources. She’s also a member of the international slow-food movement.
First appeared in Fast Company: June 2003

“We have to teach eco-gastronomy: a hands-on understanding of where our food comes from, how it’s produced, and the traditions and rituals of eating it. When people know what the chickens are being fed, all of a sudden the chickens taste better. Food doesn’t have to be fancy–we’re talking about a bowl of soup. It’s where you get all of those ingredients for that soup and how it’s made that’s important. Once kids are educated, they eat in different ways. They think about farming as an important occupation. They make choices about food based on biodiversity. They become sophisticated tasters. I think we can have a generation of kids that grow up with a different set of values.

We’re all hungry for this kind of experience–I don’t mean just physically hungry but psychologically hungry for it. We need to really feel as though we’re part of the natural world again, and this is a beautiful, delicious way to do it.

There are businesses that can spring from this idea, but not big businesses. Plenty of things in this world can be scaled up, but food isn’t one of them. We need to buy food that was grown or raised close by rather than support national and global conglomerates. To do so, we need to build local communities of farmers. If we can make the right choices about food, we can change the world.”
–Interview by Alyssa Danigelis