The Fast Pack
Jan. 31, 1998
We invited some of the smartest people we know to consider four of the toughest questions around. Fast Company celebrates its second anniversary with the ultimate business rountable.
by Fast Company
The place: Telluride, Colorado.
The event: The Fast Company Advance, a celebration of Fast Company’s second anniversary.
The gathering: A roundtable of more than 50 of the best brains in business — a two-day conversation among change agents from some of the world’s biggest and best-known companies; senior leaders from young, fast-growing companies; business thinkers and educators from Europe and South America; activists from the world of politics and public policy; economists and anthropologists, strategists and scientists.
The rules: No speeches, canned presentations, or overhead slides.
The topics: Four questions that cut across the world of work, challenging themes that are both personal and universal. In a world where change occurs at a faster and faster pace, is speed the ultimate competitive weapon? At a time when the stakes in business are rising higher and higher, which is more powerful — fear or trust? With whole industries up for grabs and careers hanging in the balance, what kinds of practices really work at work? And in this period of opportunity and uncertainty, how should each of us define “success”?
The record: We taped the entire two-day conversation. Here we present an edited selection of comments made by the participants. These Advancers offer provocative insights and useful practices — table talk that defines the new world of work and the new rules of business.
The Round Table
Candice Carpenter is a founder and CEO of iVillage, a Web community-builder that wants to humanize cyberspace. Previously she was president of Q2, Barry Diller’s cable network, and served as president of Time-Life Video and Television.
In 1984, Laurie Coots started at Chiat/Day, working on the Apple account; in 1997, as COO of TBWA Chiat/Day in Los Angelese, she recently played a lead role in the new Apple campaign.
David Dreyer recently completed a two-year stint as senior advisor to Treasury Secretary Robert E. Rubin. He is now a principal with TSD, a firm specializing in communications strategy and information technology; its clients include the Committee to Bring the 2004 Olympics to Athens and the Body Shop.
A leading authority on technology and aging, Mary Furlong is founder and CEO of Third Age Media, an Internet-based company with programs and services for older adults. Before founding Third Age, she was president of SeniorNet, a nonprofit membership organization dedicated to educating older adults about computer technology.
Seth Godin is founder and president of Yoyodyne, the Internet’s leader in online promotions. He is also founder and president of Seth Godin Productions, a book developer and packager that has produced more than 90 books for top publishers since 1986.
Thornton May runs Cambridge Technology Partner’s Management Lab, which tracks strategy and technology issues in 600 large companies.
As Intel’s vice president for business development, Avram Miller serves as the company’s ambassador to Hollywood and the world of new media.
Peter Moore is managing partner at Inferential Focus, a market intelligence firm that detects economic, social, and political changes in the United States and the world.
In addition to creating IBM’s ThinkPad brand, John Patrick serves as the company’s chief technology officer for the Internet and is the architect of IBM’s “Get Connected” program, driving expanded use of the Internet both within the company and as a model for others to follow.
Harriet Rubin is the founder of Doubleday/Currency, a business-book publisher of such authors as Andy Grove, Peter Senge, and Max DePree. In addition, she is the author of The Princessa: Machiavelli for Women (Doubleday, 1997).
As a senior research scientist at the Institute for Research on Learning, Patricia Sachs uses her training as an anthropologist to investigate learning in the workplace, the role of technology, and the transformation of work.
For nearly 20 years, Larry Smith held senior national security positions in the U.S. Congress and the Department of Defense, including counselor to secretaries of defense William Perry and Les Aspin. He has taught history at Dartmouth College, and public management at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government.
As chairman, president, and CEO of VeriFone, Inc. Hatim Tyabji has taken the company public, grown the annual revenues from $31.2 million to $600 million, and merged with Hewlett-Packard in a stock-for-stock transaction valued at about $1.4 billion.
Is Faster Better?
Thorton May: Up to now, companies have had to embrace open technology architectures in order to compete successfully. From now on, they’re going to need open intellectual architectures. The goal is to get as many smart people in the world to work with you as possible.
Land, labor, and capital are no longer sources of competitive advantage. In fact, in many of our largest companies, these old factor endowments are barriers to growth and innovation. Most people today accept that proposition. The next realization, however, is not generally accepted: Technology isn’t a permanent source of competitive advantage.
What matters is what you don’t know. In fact, I’m thinking of changing my title to vice president of ignorance. Because the real source of competitive advantage in any organization is how it deals with the fact that the people inside it don’t know everything they need to know. Ultimately the question is “How do you deal with uncertainty?”
The real answer to that question comes down to how you spend your time. Time is the only scarce resource in the world today. We all have capital budgets, market-share budgets, head-count budgets. We don’t have time budgets. But time is the one dimension in which we’re all competing. The key questions are “Where do you spend your time?” and “Where do your customers spend their time?” Ultimately you’re competing for their attention – you want more of their time.
Seth Godin: Time is an important metric – but I believe it’s essential to make a distinction between speed and bravery. People often equate speed with certain ways of working: staying late, working harder, pushing stuff out the door. The real issue is bravery. Too many people in big organizations spend too much time hiding. And that’s what translates into slowness. The way you achieve speed is not by telling people to go faster; it’s by helping them – or forcing them – to become braver.
Bravery is important because ideas in organizations evolve the same way animals evolve in nature: Bad ideas die, good ideas survive. Bravery is all about people being willing to take a chance on themselves and their ideas: Are you willing to put yourself out there and risk seeing something you invented die?
John Patrick: To some people, speed simply means “Do what you’re doing faster.” But in the world of the Web, that’s not really helpful. Instead, speed means trial by fire: Create something and put it on the Web. Let people look at it, poke at it. The rule is “Just enough is good enough.”
This doesn’t fit the way most big companies do product development. Their model is “plan, build, ship.” It might be a five-year cycle. The world of the Web is the world of speed. Instead of “plan, build, ship,” you have to “sense, respond, think.” You get a good idea – then you get it out there. The Web mentality is a radical departure in how you work.
Candice Carpenter: Speed is linked to learning. When I worked with Barry Diller, he taught me an important lesson about failing and learning. He said, “Anything worth doing is worth doing badly.” At first, I thought he was nuts. But the more I thought about it, the more sense it made to me. The sooner you try something, the sooner you make mistakes with it, and the sooner you’re on to your next cycle of learning. By learning faster than everyone else, you stay ahead of everyone else.
But to have that approach, you have to be a warrior – completely and totally noninsulated. You have to have an all-or-nothing ethic: You’d rather die than not get something done. It sounds extreme, but that’s what it takes.
If we want people to be warriors, we’ve got to have a culture in which people can make mistakes and learn from them. For my company, mistakes aren’t the problem. There isn’t an Internet company in the world that’s going to fail because of mistakes – Internet companies make thousands of mistakes every week. What they can’t survive is people who are afraid to try.
Harriet Rubin: One of the great acts of bravery is to go slowly. In the world of publishing and entertainment, I see products being ruined and audiences being shortchanged by a false emphasis on speed. In fact, the best books are those that take their own time; they can’t even be measured against a deadline. The publishing industry used to understand this principle. It’s where publishing began: “Make haste slowly” was the motto of the printer Aldus.
It may sound counterintuitive, but sometimes you have to go slower to go faster. I look at competition, and I see strength coming out of holding back, not out of going faster. The real challenge is to go slow enough to make products as beautiful and as individualistic as possible.
Fear or Trust?
Avram Miller: There are two things that drive our industry: paranoia and greed. We go back and forth between them, but of the two, paranoia is the more effective one. If you’re honest with yourself, you absolutely should be afraid. There are real things to be afraid of! We live in a world where things happen to us. Our businesses – our lives – can be gone in a second. How can we not have fear?
The crucial difference is between institutional fear and individual fear. In our company, we don’t want people to be afraid on an individual level. It’s important for people to know that we’re all there together. But on an institutional level, we’re scared to death. Fear is one of the greatest motivators. In fact, Andy Grove is really good at creating fear when we get complacent. We’ll create our own enemies if we have to – but the world is a fearful place as it is, so there are plenty of real reasons to be afraid.
Laurie Coots: You can’t have bravery unless you have fear. But there are different kinds of fear. There’s the debilitating fear that’s usually manufactured – it’s what FEAR is an acronym for: false evidence that appears real. Then there’s real fear, the kind that makes your stomach turn, gives you butterflies, and makes your palms sweat. In my business, that’s good fear. If you don’t have that kind of fear, you’re probably doing something very mediocre.
At the same time, the only thing that allows us to do what we do is the element of trust. We assume that when you walk through the door of our company, you are motivated to be the best in the field, that you’re here because you want to find out how good you can be, and that you are going to be accountable for results. Accountability – it’s not the same thing as blame.
When people arrive at the agency, we give them a T-shirt that says, “Innovate or die.” In small print underneath those words, it says, “And death is not an option.” It’s their job every day to break the rules, break out of the box, do something different. At the same time, they’re responsible for leadership – because there’s a fundamental difference between rebellion and revolution. Just being a rebel isn’t enough.
Mary Furlong: I work with older people, and trust is the number-one issue for them – as it is for our employees. When you listen to older people, they’ll tell you that their trust has been betrayed by a lot of different people. They lose trust when they feel that things operate one way for a while and then shift to operate in another way. They can’t follow that, and they definitely don’t like it.
The only way I know of to build trust is through consistent behavior over time. People understand that your business model may change. They know that they’re living through a time of enormous change. But what people want is to walk in every day and feel that you’re going to be true to your promise. That’s what builds trust – and it’s true whether you’re talking about your customers, your employees, or members of your community.
Hatim Tyabji: It’s fine to talk about trust. But how many leaders of companies are prepared to trust their own people with the fate of the company? How many leaders, when they are going to their board of directors with a recommendation, go to an external consultant for validation – because the voice of the outsider carries more influence than any internal voice? And how many leaders are prepared to spend money on the acquisition of a small startup with entrepreneurial spirit – when they could have engendered that same spirit in their own companies?
At one point in VeriFone’s history, we were only a hardware company, looking for a way to break out. We saw the Internet, but we had no idea what it could or should mean for us. We could have gone to a consultant and asked for a report. What we did instead was to assign one of our very senior line managers to the project. We told him to look at the Internet and tell us whether he thought there was a play for us and whether there was a real business plan that we could make for it. If there was a play, we would make it – but whatever he told us would be the basis for what we would do.
He trusted that we would listen to him. He also trusted that we would not leave him out in the cold – that there’d be a place for him when he came back into the organization after completing his report. And we trusted him – we had confidence in the validity of whatever he would tell us. If you want trust in your organization, you need to have more faith in your own people.
What Works at Work?
Larry Smith: We’re moving from a bureaucratic, Stalinist model to a new model in which work gets done by encouraging the creativity of individuals within an integrated system.
I saw this at the Department of Defense. When we fought the Gulf War, the Department of Defense created one of the largest logistics systems ever, and it was done extremely quickly. It had to be done quickly, because a plan like that – which can take 40 days to detail, even in quick-time – could become obsolete by the time you sent the first ships to their destinations. That’s the old model.
The new model involves a distributed, collaborative planning system that uses the Internet to put together an elaborate global operation in which all the key players from separate commands can shape the details of the logistics plan – and do it in 4 days instead of 40. When that first ship leaves, it has the first supplies you need, they’re going to the right place, and they’re in the correct mix.
That is a revolutionary change from the bureaucratic model that has developed over the last 200 years. Work is now based on distributed, collaborative planning that meets our need to act immediately and collectively – and also enables us to create individually.
Laurie Coots: The real challenge is to give people more tools to develop successful subcultures within the larger corporate culture. We say that we want people to have more ownership of what they’re doing. We want them to take more entrepreneurial risks. We think they should be more accountable. But we hire a more diverse workforce and then expect them to become homogeneous – which means we lose the advantage of diversity.
It seems to me that having the company brand stamped on everyone’s forehead isn’t such a good way to work. If we want to keep learning from each other, we need to let the subcultures propagate and expand.
Hatim Tyabji: At my company, we all feel that we are “VeriFoners.” And we may even have VeriFone stamped on our foreheads. But that does not necessarily translate into a corporate culture that is homogeneous. The VeriFone philosophy talks about the way we expect all VeriFoners to live their professional lives. In matters of ethics, for example, we will brook no divergence.
But under the umbrella of our philosophy, we actively encourage people to live differently, to work differently. We want people to do things their own way, to find the way that works best for them.
John Patrick: When it came time for IBM to build the Web site for the Atlanta Olympics, we found that we had to build a subculture. We had about 90 days to build a site that would handle 100 million hits. We got together a team of about 50 people. These were just kids – mostly people in their early twenties – and they had Nerf guns and radio-controlled cars that they’d drive around in the parking lot at night. We found a building to put them in, and they worked around the clock. But to get the Web site done, we had to break practically every rule in the IBM handbook.
One small example: the big pizza issue. My guys wanted pizza delivered – but that would have violated security! We ended up having a catering service come in. We established visiting hours for wives and children. It was almost like a prison!
You can achieve amazing things and have highly motivated, incredibly loyal people – if they think management is willing to ignore the rules to get things done. You must be willing to break the rules and create a subculture that’s operating a little bit differently.
Avram Miller: Not long ago, I realized that when I talk to customers, they think of Intel the way we were five years ago, and I think of Intel the way we will be five years from now. That’s a 10-year gap – and in 10 years, there’s been about a hundredfold improvement in our technology.
Our company is a nonlinear company. We deal with exponential change. In fact, we drive exponential change. We’re doubling the computing power of the world every year. To do that takes courage. We build factories that cost $2 billion and take three or four years to build. We build them for products we haven’t designed for markets that don’t exist. So who’s our competitor? Today our competitor is the 17-inch monitor.
Why the monitor and not another company in the same industry? When customers go to buy personal computers and they’re prepared to spend $2,000 or $2,500, they have to make trade-offs. Our job is to convince them that the most important thing for them to buy is more computing power, not a bigger monitor.
We’re now growing at a rate of 25% a year. That means about $5 billion a year, or 10,000 employees a year. Our strategy is to form all kinds of relationships with other companies. This year, we’ll do lots of transactions with small companies. About six years ago, we decided that we wanted to be as good at managing those investments and those relationships as we were at building chips. So we created the institutional learning to do it.
For example, through alliances with Deutsche Telekom, SES Astra, and Hughes Electronics, we’ve formed a company in Europe that uses satellite technology to deliver information to personal computers for both business and consumers. The people working on it are a team. They have to learn to trust each other – and we have to let them do it. The biggest challenge is to give up the notion of control, because we can’t control this kind of project.
How to Succeed at Success
Harriet Rubin: Words are like charms: They have potent secrets buried in them. If you know the history of a word, you can release that charm. Some words in the English language are ultra-hot.
“Success” is one of the words that Freud called “hot” – words that mean one thing and its exact opposite. We think that success means getting ahead, leading the pack, triumphing. But succeeding also means following behind. When I succeed someone, I walk behind that person – that’s the other, literal meaning of the word. If you follow this train of thought, the opposite of success is not failure. The true opposite of success is recess.
What are the principles of success as recess? First, success has to be about you, not your organization. Imagine yourself being as big as your organization – what would you be like? How do you match your destiny to your desire? Second, freedom is actually a bigger game than power. Power is about what you can control. Freedom is about what you can unleash. Third, think about time differently. You have to think about your legacy. What are you doing that will live beyond you? If the answer is nothing, what do you have to be proud of? Fourth, don’t motivate – model. Success is not what you’re doing, it’s how you’re doing it. Are you able to live with flourish, panache, ambition, and pride? And fifth, remember that things evolve. The things you attach success to will have a life of their own and a destiny beyond anything you can see. In fact, the ultimate measure of your success is to realize that you don’t have to be recognized for your work – because you’re making a contribution.
David Dreyer: I have to ask, success for whom? There’s a very clear sense in most people’s minds that the American experience used to contain a bargain or a compact: If you work very hard, you will get a decent wage, health care, a reasonable retirement plan, and a chance for your kids to be something more than you. Today people think that’s gone.
There’s a new divide today, but it’s not the divide between rich and poor as old-style politics used to address it. The divide today is between upper-middle-class people, who feel they can affect the outcome of their lives, and lower-class people, who simply do not feel that way. It’s a divide based as much on education as on income. Most of us can feel successful. We can be part of enlightened workplaces that care about people. The challenge for us is to address this divide and to recognize the economic suffering that is taking place on the other side of it. To care about success is to care about living in a country that is inclusive, not divided – open, not gated. There’s a larger sense in which success is a social and national concern.
Larry Smith: A number of years ago I was asked to give four lectures at Dartmouth on the “American Ideal of Success.” I came upon three verbs that define the classic American model of success. One verb is “to do.” To succeed is to do, to produce results, to get something done. We are a nation of doers – it’s probably the most unique aspect of our culture, that we put such a premium on performance. A second verb is “to have.” In the 19th century, there was something called the Gospel of Wealth. The theory was that the accumulation of wealth was a sign of God’s grace. The third verb is “to serve.” There was the religious version: You were meant to serve God. And there was the secular version, called the Doctrine of Stewardship: You take care of your employees, your town, your society. To do, to have, to serve.
In 20th-century America, these verbs have become increasingly connected with visible signs of success. Success must be validated externally. And that’s brought two other verbs into our culture. The first is “to win.” Sometimes, of course, to win is a necessary and proper part of success. But there’s also a dark side to winning – a dysfunctional lust for victory that turns winning into a compulsion to control. The other verb is “to be.” Again, there’s a healthy side to this. But it can also turn into an almost insatiable appetite for recognition, validation, and celebration.
These five verbs suggest a kind of sweet spot that each of us has to find for ourselves: a place to perform that requires deep self-knowledge. It comes from understanding something about your natural tastes and abilities, and finding joy in those qualities. Coming to terms with these verbs not only helps you define success – it also makes you more likely to achieve success.
A version of this article appeared in the February/March 1998 issue of Fast Company magazine.