You Inc. - Being Your Own Brand

Build skills with a creative career, not gold watch, as goal, says Fast Company editor

On the Information Superhighway, it helps to look where you're going.

That's the job of Alan Webber and Bill Taylor with their 18-month-old magazine Fast Company, a handbook for the business revolution, a manifesto for change, and a manual for achieving it.

Their thesis works like this: The changes sweeping the workplace constitute a revolution - the end of the industrial era, the dawning of an information age. Its effects ripple far beyond high-tech fields.

"We're heading into what's probably going to be 100 years of change," says Mr. Webber, former managing editor of the Harvard Business Review. He and Mr. Taylor, who worked with consumer advocate Ralph Nader before a stint with Webber at the review, founded their magazine in a decrepit building in Boston's North End.

"What we're trying to do is to acquaint people with the new rules of the game, how to play it, how to think about it differently" - the tactics, the tools, the techniques.

Fast Company's credo: "Work is personal."

Consider, for example, professional firms - consultants, accountants, and lawyers - or baseball players and actors. They bring personal capital to a job, a set of skills that become "a core part of your personal identity."

That personal capital, growing from project to project, is the new dynamic, Webber says. "You don't really have a career. You don't have a tremendous amount of loyalty to a company anymore.

"You look for projects that challenge your creativity and give you another thing to talk about as a builder of your own personal identity, your own personal brand," Webber says.

It's an opportunity "for individuals to control their own destiny, to have a job that ... carries the stamp of their own personal set of interests," he says. "As opposed to saying, 'Oh, yeah, I just spent 20 years at Company X, and if I spend five more I get my gold watch.' That's really a huge shift."

"For the person who's trying to make sense of it, the first thing you have to grasp is: This is not going to go away. This is not a fad." And it isn't limited to the high-tech industry, but will cut across all sectors of the economy, from groceries to education.

As evidence, he notes that all the largest companies in the industrial economy have undergone reorganizations - often multiple reorganizations - as they question how to stay in business today.

At the same time, what Webber calls "fast companies" are sprouting: smaller, agile, competitive - companies that compete on ideas and make alliances to get things done. Many of them let employees share in success through stock options.

These companies are the cutting edge. "If you look around at the headlines, you see the shreds of history being written," he says.

But this new world of work is not without challenges. Not everyone is ready for it. "There there will be winners and losers," says Webber. "There are some inequities built into the game from the beginning. People who have more money and can buy the technology and can get good at the technology start with a bit of an advantage."

It's a tough problem to solve. "As a country, we have to consider: How do you combine economic growth with social justice? So that the rich don't just get richer ... while people who don't have a computer at home and don't have access to the Internet gradually become more and more left behind."

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