Bill Taylor knows that when he and co-founder Alan Webber launched Fast Company magazine in 1995, it would be a “passion brand.”
In their first issue, he published a manifesto.
“I can still recall the first line: ‘A global revolution is changing business and business is changing the world,’” Taylor said in a phone interview with Insight. “We wanted to make the case that there were a whole bunch of people out there deeply rethinking the sense of what was possible in business — and we wanted to be the people who helped advance that cause.”
They set out to create a touchpoint for businesspeople yearning to break free of the old way of doing things. With the internet, a generational power shift and exploding phenomenon of independent entrepreneurs who could work whenever — and wherever — they wanted to, Fast Company spoke to people who were turning the old ways of doing business on its head.
“Businesspeople had different ideas about the kinds of businesses they wanted to run — and the kinds of lives they wanted to live,” Taylor says. “People realized you no longer have to work for jerks.” The notion that to be in business meant you had to adopt a completely different persona at work than at home no longer held.
“We wanted Fast Company to be a rallying cry for a new generation of people who were starting their own companies, trying to make dramatic change.”
Taylor will present the keynote Oct. 26 at Manufacturing First at the KI Center in Green Bay. (See accompanying story for details.)
After six years running Fast Company, Taylor and Webber sold the magazine for $340 million. Since then, Taylor has written three books on leadership and change. His most recent book, “Simply Brilliant: How Great Organizations Do Ordinary Things in Extraordinary Ways,” presents case studies about how to unleash breakthrough creativity and cutting-edge performance even in mature, slow-to-change fields, from banks and insurance companies to department stores and manufacturers.
In his first book 10 years ago, “Mavericks at Work,” Taylor featured the industrial furniture manufacturer KI, based in Green Bay. He came to know owner Dick Resch “very well.”
“Simply Brilliant” came about when Taylor realized that so much of his research and writing for years was about Silicon Valley-type companies. “I said to myself, ‘I’m ignoring the 90 percent of the economy that is not 20 years old, pulling all-nighters and writing code.”
Most of his recent audiences have been people in mature industries that are not “super glamorous,” but have the capacity and the desire to do things in extraordinary ways.
“Oftentimes people who are competing in industries that have been a little too ordinary too long have the greatest opportunities,” Taylor says.
Taylor says leaders of companies in every field have to understand that with so much competition today, the only way to sustain real performance over the long term is to be prepared to do things other companies in their field simply won’t do. Further, they need to understand the connection between strategy and culture.
“You can think just as creatively, just as open-mindedly about what it means to be a colleague at a manufacturing company,” Taylor says. One case study he uses is WD-40, a longtime manufacturer that has embraced continuous learning company-wide. Executives take a pledge to become learning maniacs.
“They ask themselves, ‘When was the last time I did something for the first time? When did I try a new piece of technology I never tried before, traveled to a new place or did something I’ve never done before?”
Too often, we allow everything we know to limit what we can imagine, Taylor says.
“You can’t change your company unless you change yourself first.”