25 Fast Ideas for Slower Times

Fast Company’s RealTime Philadelphia generated a remarkable collection of ideas, tools, and inspirational advice. Here are 25 of the smartest insights that we took away from the event. Feel free to put them to use and share them with your colleagues.

Take three Maori tribesmen wielding spears, throw in one man slicing warm bread, add a guy who lost $6 billion in one day, sprinkle with various visionaries, change insurgents, big thinkers, and a strolling band of Mummers, and what have you got?


RealTime Philadelphia, of course.

The theme of this spring’s Fast Company conference was “Tougher Times Demand Smarter Thinking.” And while the mood in the hall was anything but downbeat, the speakers that assembled to address the new, more sobering economic environment pulled no punches: It’s ugly out there, and nobody’s saying that it’s going to get better anytime soon.

Still, they said, these are just the kinds of conditions that present real opportunities for those who can see beyond yesterday’s grim headlines or today’s anemic Dow.


Here’s a sampling of some of the more provocative ideas we heard in the City of Brotherly (and Sisterly) Love:

1. An Acronym Worth Using
“S.A.V. — Screw Around Vigorously. Try something. How are you going to figure out if the Internet is going to cannibalize your sales unless you try selling stuff on the Internet?”
Tom Peters, management guru and author

2. Up, Up, and Awry
“There are certain disadvantages to flying, like crashing…. The one thing I did not anticipate for MicroStrategy was the most disastrous outcome possible, and then it hit at the worst time possible.”
Michael Saylor, founder, chairman, and CEO, MicroStrategy Inc.


3. Don’t Be a Pushover
“What’s next for advertising? Pull will soon replace push. We will begin to ask people what advertisers they want to hear from and what advertisements would be most helpful to them. Advertising will evolve into a terrific business.”
John Ellis, columnist, and strategy and advertising consultant

4. Independent State
“How many California residents hold conventional, full-time, 40-hour-a-week jobs? One-third. Hmmm … has California ever led the nation in any trend before?”
Dan Pink, contributing editor, Fast Company and author, Free Agent Nation

5. People Power
“People don’t leave companies — they leave leaders.”
Richard Leider, founding partner, the Inventure Group


6. When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Get Tea
“During a crisis, my third command was always to put on the kettle. In the midst of chaos, no leader can deal with a crew of 18 upset people. By demanding cups of tea for the whole crew, I got one person out of my hair, and I introduced a normalizing factor into a crisis situation. If the skipper wants a cup of tea, it can’t be that bad.”
Simon Walker, managing director, Challenge Business

7. Currency Exchange
“Ideas are capital. The rest is just money.”
— advertisement for Deutsche Bank, quoted by Leslie Becknell of Coca-Cola

8. Job Title of the Future: Hero
“Don’t assume that your people want a promotion. Talk to them, get to know them, ask them what they hope to achieve at work. If your guru programmer won’t thrive as a manager, don’t promote him up the ladder. Instead, make a hero out of him. Put him on a pedestal and make him a superstar that other employees can admire.”
Debora Wilson, president and CEO of


9. A Recipe for Learning
“When your oven is jammed and your bread is burning — that is when you will learn to use an oven. People can’t learn in a classroom. True learning occurs ‘just in time.’ “
Tom McMakin, COO, Great Harvest Bread Co.

10. The Power of Positive Thinking
“Stop disciplining employees. If you catch people doing things right, they will do things better in the future. When we did this at the Bellagio, performance went up, and turnover went down.”
Arte Nathan, former VP of human resources, Mirage Resorts Inc. and director of the Data Intelligence Center of the Unifi Network division, PricewaterhouseCoopers

11. You Should Get Out More
“I don’t want to hear that someone else beat us to the marketplace because we didn’t get out of the building. You have to get out and talk to people to find out about your problems.”
Frank Hauck, executive VP of products and offerings, EMC Corp.


12. Getting to Know You
“We spent most of the 20th century creating things that people somewhere might like. Then we broadcast messages to find those people and get their money. Today, instead of giving people a lot of choices and taking orders, we are beginning to serve customers better by getting to know them. A company that knows what I want has a great advantage over a company that offers me a slew of choices and makes me sift through them.”
Martha Rogers, partner, Peppers and Rogers Group

13. The Downside of Technology
“The greatest misconception is that technology makes customer service easy. In many cases, technology makes the provision of service more difficult because it introduces entirely new ways of recording information that are not compatible with yesterday’s techniques. At the same time, expectations have far exceeded technology.”
Hal Logan, president and CEO, Manheim Interactive

14. Messy Is Beautiful
“Today, rabid rationality drives the culture of business — especially in the U.S. — straight into a dead end. Abandon the safety of structures. Forget tidy assumptions. Face up to the messy reality of the world. Revel in it. People do not act with rational, unemotional self-interest. Over the past 18 months, the stock market has given us a sharp lesson in the limits of rationality. As it turns out, even the market’s completely wired into moods and emotions.”
Kevin Roberts, CEO, Saatchi & Saatchi


15. Everybody Must Get Stoned
“In the new world of work, passion and expertise are the Rosetta stone.”
Julie Anixter, managing director of new media and R&D, Tom Peters Co.

16. Don’t Stop Now
“I’m seriously pissed off, absolutely irritated that Lucent, Nortel, and Cisco are in the tank. It only goes to show that those companies have astonishingly stupid customers. Now is the time to turn the heat up, not down…. Go bananas on IT and marketing spending while your competitors are too stupid to do so.”
Tom Peters, management guru and author

17. (In)Action Item
“Create a “To-Don’t” list that contains tasks, rituals, and meetings that you should never waste your time on again. Then stick to it.”
Tom Peters, management guru and author


18. Staying Creative in Mentally Constipated Times
“Celebrate weakness. Play the fool in your group or your company by embracing inversion, absurdity, and perseverance. Inverted thinking may help you leapfrog the competition. And just think of the innovations that rose from failure: Post-it Notes, the telephone, Silly Putty, the lightbulb.”
Annette Moser-Wellman, author of The Five Faces of Genius

19. Don’t Back Down
“When you’re faced with a decision, always choose the bolder option. The most extraordinary things are created by ordinary people.”
Simon Walker, managing director, Challenge Business

20. Brands Stop Here
“Brands were built as a substitute for relationships. Today, they are the antithesis of relationships because they can’t — and shouldn’t — change based on information about me, the customer.”
Martha Rogers, partner, Peppers and Rogers Group


21. A Penny Saved
“Accept that you’re a creature of the marketplace. In the current economy, if you have a single business and can do it well, you should be happy with it. Do one thing properly, and carefully evolve that one thing. Figure out how much money you’re going to make, and spend less.”
Michael Saylor, founder, chairman, and CEO, MicroStrategy Inc.

22. Keep It Simple
“I tell my staff, ‘If the solution you’re proposing isn’t simpler than what we’re doing today, then don’t even bother telling me about it.'”
Peter Foss, president of the Polymerland division, General Electric

23. Raise Your Brand
“You can’t control your brand. It’s like a kid. You can raise it, but in the end, it will do what it wishes. Brands need strong and loving parents.”
Scott Bedbury, founder and CEO, Brandstream


24. Be All You Can Be
“Leadership is an army you have to enlist in. You can’t get drafted into leadership. You can get drafted into management.”
Rayona Sharpnack, founder and president, the Institute for Women’s Leadership

25. Winning the Battle, Not the War
“If you’re a traditional employer, beware: You’re a way station for talent just until the economy clears up.”
Bruce Tulgan, founder, RainmakerThinking and author, Winning the Talent Wars

Anni Layne ( is the Fast Company senior Web editor. Linda Tischler ( is the Fast Company managing editor of new media.