When Fast Company introduced the 100 Most Creative People in Business 10 years ago, it was a watershed. Other business publications ranked individuals by wealth or power, but this publication sought to take stock of something intangible and, as then editor Bob Safian explained, offer a “snapshot of the range and depth of creativity across our business landscape.”
That first list was prescient. It featured several leaders and executives who have only grown in stature since 2009 (Melinda Gates at No. 2, Reed Hastings at No. 4, J.J. Abrams at No. 14), and relatively undiscovered entrepreneurs and academics who have since become cultural phenomena. Inventor Joy Mangano made the list (No. 77), six years before Jennifer Lawrence portrayed her in the biopic Joy, and cover subject Neri Oxman, an associate professor at MIT, has gone on to win accolades for her work as a designer, architect, and artist and be written about by The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and Wired.
The inaugural package leaned toward people working in fields conventionally defined as creative: music (Pharrell Williams, Brian Eno, Dave Stewart, A.R. Rahman), fashion (Stella McCartney, Jil Sander, Marc Jacobs), and film (Abrams, Tyler Perry, Studio Ghibli’s Hayao Miyazaki). And it didn’t require fresh interviews with each of its subjects. Under the leadership of editorial director Jill Bernstein, the list has evolved considerably, with deeper reporting and an even stronger emphasis on innovation and originality in sectors not typically associated with artistry. “We believe there is creativity in coding. In biotech. In manufacturing. In cybersecurity,” Bernstein says. “Learning about the individuals whose ideas are pushing their industries forward is what inspires us as journalists—and propels us as a culture.”
The result is a lively mix of people across a range of disciplines who have made meaningful contributions in their fields over the past year. On what other “best of business” list will you find an investment banker who’s good at storytelling alongside both a NASA project manager and a former nun who is helping veterans find teaching jobs? The list also reflects the times. This year’s edition acknowledges society’s increasingly fraught relationship with technology. It is light on people inventing new apps to sell us more stuff—and mine our personal information—and heavier on leaders trying to protect consumers and companies from unscrupulous actors online.
Even the “creatives” in this year’s issue are recognized for contributions that fall outside their celebrity status. Actress Michelle Pfeiffer (No. 35) makes the list for launching a safe and sustainable luxury fragrance line; music producer and artist Dev Hynes (No. 29), aka Blood Orange, is honored for creating harmony out of today’s anxious, fractured times; cover subject Seth Meyers wins plaudits for digesting news headlines in real time and delivering commentary that is often smarter—and a whole lot funnier—than much of what we see on television news programs.
I recently asked Bernstein if, 10 years on, she worried about finding people who were accomplished, compelling, and creative enough to make the cut. (Each year we highlight 100 all-new “MCPs”—no repeats, and they can’t be people we’ve previously featured in print.) She shook her head emphatically: As long as there are problems that need solving and determined leaders viewing the world through a unique lens, there will be enough people to ensure that each of our 100 Most Creative People in Business lists remains a watershed.