Fast Company editor says it's time for a deep breath
December 21 2001 by Greg Warner , Associated Baptist Press

Fast Company editor says it's time for a deep breath | Friday, Dec. 21, 2001
  • Technology. "Life is different," Webber says, "and the life of organizations is different," because of the explosion of technology.
  • Generational shift. Earlier generations said work is not personal, Webber says. "The younger generations are saying, 'We've got the basics covered. We can put food on the table. We want to put meaning on the table.'"
  • Globalization. "Money, technology and values travel globally," he says. The dichotomy between domestic and international is gone.
  • Gender. At one time, every business magazine had the same dominant image on its cover, Webber says - "A white male looking to the right and looking heroic."

    Fast Company's version of a business magazine is unmistakably different. The cover is often a quirky illustration or caricature. Photos of CEOs may look like the adjacent Nautica ad. Sure, there are the stories on the "The Next Big Idea," hot companies to watch, and the guy with the job title of "director of ethical hacking."

    But there are also stories on your job as a calling and the destructive power of success.

    The Fast Company message, Webber says, was built around four values:

  • Work is personal. "Work and personal life are intertwined," he says. "The men and women who lost their lives (in the World Trade Center attacks) did so at work, precisely because they were at work. And the men and women who went in to rescue them who lost their lives were doing a job that was absolutely their calling."
  • The individual is the unit of analysis. "The organization with the best people wins," Webber asserts. "You have to believe in the people you're working with, to believe they've got good judgment, that they share your values, that they're willing to commit themselves, that the more they participate the more they contribute, and you've got to be willing to learn from them."
  • This is the best time to work and find meaning in what you do.
  • There is no division between who you are and what you do. Rather than "compartmentalizing" work as something you do to make a living, work should "express who you are," Webber says. "Nobody should do anything they don't want to do. Life is too short."

    "Not all days are good days," he quickly adds. You have to take the average. There are some things about every job that aren't chock full of meaning. "Everybody has to do the dishes," he says. But overall, work is intended to be life-giving, not life-draining.

    Fast Company doesn't just preach meaningful work and human value. Readers are invited to participate in local forums, where they get to know each other, share work experiences and hash out workplace issues. The forums are more than smart marketing gimmicks to create reader loyalty. They build community. And that's another key to the magazine's success.

    Most business magazines, Webber says, are about "transactions" - two people making a deal across a table. "What we said at Fast Company is let's reframe the interaction. We tried to move the chair to the other side of the table. If we talk to each other, maybe we can figure it out. That's a fundamentally different position."

    "That's the reason there is a sense of community with our readers. ... Fast Company defines success as impact - how many great conversations can we get started."

    Likewise, work and business should be about creating community, not just about creating "winners and losers," Webber says.

  • Friday, Dec. 21, 2001

    Fast Company editor says it's time for a deep breath

    By Greg Warner Associated Baptist Press SAN DIEGO, Calif. - Are you bummed out that the economy is heading south? Numbed by bioterrorism warnings and news of a deepening war? Take Alan Webber's advice: Hit the pause button. Take a deep breath.

    It's time to "regroup, rethink, recalibrate," says Webber, editor of Fast Company magazine.

    That may sound like strange advice from this poster child for fast-thinking, fast-acting entrepreneurs. But Webber says the dot-com crash and war on terrorism are changing the mood of the business world, which is now ready for some self-examination.

    Many workers and companies were worn out by the roaring '90s, when they were told constant change is the new way of life. "They are up to here with change, speed and reflexive response," Webber says.

    The mood now is shifting from reflexive to reflective. After a decade spent learning the "new rules" of business and chasing the latest innovations and strategies, Webber says "this is a good time to hit the pause button and see if they are working or not. In fact, it would be a good idea for the nation as a whole to hit the pause button."

    Webber, who describes himself as a "practicing but not observant Jew," cites an Old Testament story to describe our times. It's the story of Joseph in Egypt, storing up provisions during seven bountiful years, so that when seven years of famine arrived, he was ready for his brothers to visit. Guess which part of the story we're in now?

    Webber shared his take on American culture, the workplace, and leadership in a recent gathering of 1,400 Christian leaders in San Diego, sponsored by Leadership Training Network. "For a short, fat Jewish guy, I feel incredibly welcome here," he told them.

    A native of St. Louis, Webber started Fast Company after six years as managing editor of the Harvard Business Review. Since its launch in 1993, Fast Company has grown to 700,000 subscribers. Webber is credited for the magazine's unique character and style, a decidedly hip and probing magazine in the often stodgy world of business.

    One key to Fast Company's meteoric success is its holistic, even spiritual, understanding of work.

    "Fast Company asks not only what's new, but what matters?" he told FaithWorks magazine.

    "The central tenet of our magazine is that work is about creating meaning. We recognized a fundamental shift taking place in the workplace. Making money isn't enough. People - particularly baby busters - want work to mean something."

    Although the rise of Fast Company paralleled the Internet boom, Webber says he never questioned the magazine's survivability after the dot-com collapse.

    "Our DNA was never about dot-coms. It is about individual, personal expression."

    The changes in the workplace are deeper than any one business sector, he says. It is "a revolution that is demographic, psychographic and global."

    Much of the conversation since the crash and the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks has focused on a world changed. And Webber concedes business as usual will certainly be different.

    But some things won't change, he contends. The fundamental forces underlying the new economy and the new workplace will survive war and recession.

    "There are four forces reorganizing everybody's life," he says, and they are revolutionizing the workplace as well.

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    12/21/2001 12:00:00 AM by Greg Warner , Associated Baptist Press | with 0 comments
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