Alan M. Webber is an award-winning, nationally-recognized editor, author, and columnist. In 1995, he launched Fast Company magazine, a fresh, dynamic entry in the business magazine category. Headquartered in Boston, MA, the magazine became the fastest growing, most successful business magazine in history. Fast Company won two national magazine awards—one for general excellence, one for design—and Webber was named Adweek’s “Editor of the Year ” in 1999, along with co-founding editor William Taylor. Most recently, he wrote Rules of Thumb: 52 Truths for Winning at Business Without Losing Your Self. He has also been active at local, state, and national political levels, serving as policy advisor for the mayor of Portland, Oregon, writing speeches for several governors, and working as special assistant to the United States Secretary of Transportation.
Morris: Before discussing Rules of Thumb, a few general questions. First, when and why did you decide to pursue a career in journalism?
Webber: I’ve always been interested in reporting, writing, and the purposes that good journalism can serve. When I was in high school, I was editor of the high school newspaper, and we wrote editorials calling for our school (a private all-boy’s–and at the time all-white–prep school) to integrate, to accept black students. In college I became the chairman of our college newspaper. This was during the Vietnam War, and we used the newspaper to cover student attitudes to that war, but also to explore the issues on campus that went more deeply into the purposes of a liberal arts education. So I’ve always seen journalism and activism as closely linked.
Morris: Since then, what do you think have been the most significant changes i magazine publication that includes both HBR and Fast Company?
Webber: The world of publishing, in general, has been changing dramatically for the last decade or more. It’s not just the web–although the web has served to disrupt the traditional business model of publishing. It’s also reading habits of different generations, attitudes toward the media and other large institutions, and the overall pace of change that people have to contend with in their daily lives. Obviously, HBR enjoys a privileged position in the magazine world, by virtue of its relationship with the Harvard Business School. The issue there is less one of economic survival, and more of relevance and impact with a business community that will always respect the HBR brand. But will the HBR brand be in touch with and in synch with the changing concerns and composition of the business community? Fast Company, because of its unique DNA as a business magazine devoted to the them of change and innovation, should be relevant forever! But it has to face the changing economic demands of publishing.
At the moment, I’m happy to say, both magazines seem to be meeting their respective challenges head-on.
Morris: Back to HBR, for a moment. What are your fondest memories of that association?
Webber: It’s always the people. When I took over as managing editor under Ted Levitt, we went about the work of re-inventing HBR. Ted was a brilliant marketer, mentor, and writer, so he provided the leadership and the vision to guide us. Then we recruited an almost entirely new team of people to re-invigorate HBR, to re-design the look and feel of the publication, to re-engineer the architecture, the structure of each issue, to bring in new ideas for presenting business thinking to the audience. For quite a few years, we had a terrific team that was excited about creating a new conversation about the direction that business was headed in. In many respects, I think those days helped foster an innovative culture at HBR and re-connected the publication with the larger business audience that was eager to be part of a fresh dialog about how business was changing, how the world was changing, and how the pieces fit together.
Morris: Please explain the process by which you and Bill Taylor co-founded Fast Company in November, 1995.
Webber: Bill and I met at HBR; I was the managing editor and he was the most talented, brilliant, energetic editor on the staff. We began exploring the idea for a new business magazine some time after I got back from a 3-month trip to Japan in 1989-90, where I was exposed to a set of powerful forces that were transforming the world of work. Some of the things I saw could be integrated into HBR, but because of the institutional limits of HBR, some were simply outside the legitimate boundaries of the publication at that time. So in the early 1990s Bill and I started talking informally about what a new magazine could be like. Bill left HBR first, and then when I left around 1993, we got serious about what a new magazine would be like: what it would look like, how it would perform as an editorial product, what we could create that would be exciting and useful, and speak to the dramatic changes going on in business: globalization, technology, the new opportunities for individuals to make a difference in work and through their work. We raised about $550,000 from a fantastic group of first round investors, and in 1993 we put out a “beta” issue. From the feedback we got from that issue, we wrote up a second-round business plan and then showed our work to different publishing companies, looking for a business partner with whom to launch Fast Company for real. Finally we were fortunate to make a deal with Mort Zuckerman and Fred Drasner, who owned U.S. News & World Report and The Atlantic Monthly at that time. The Atlantic was in Boston, where Bill and both lived, so to launch Fast Company we borrowed office space from The Atlantic and ad sales and business staff from U.S. News, making our launch very economical. We hired a small, dedicated staff to put together our first issues, and the first “real” issue of Fast Company came out in 1995. The rest, as they say, is history!
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Alan Webber invites you to check out these websites:
After having read and reviewed so many business books, I now share brief comments about what I consider to be the 25 most valuable business insights and the books in which they are either introduced or (one man’s opinion) best explained. Here are the third five:
11. Leadership: In essence, leaders attract followers so that together they can achieve shared objectives, guided and informed by shared values based on mutual trust and respect. History’s greatest leaders are remembered for a heritage, usually based on great achievements that had an enduring impact. Alexander and then Julius Caesar for establishing or extending a great empire and Lincoln for preserving union despite a civil war.
The same is true of great business leaders such as Albert Sloan, Thomas Watson Sr. and Jr., and Steve Jobs. They could not have succeeded, had they not attracted sufficient followers who embraced both a dream and great challenges. Today, no organization can survive – much less thrive – without effective leadership at all levels and in all areas. Seth Godin said it well: “Initiative is taken, not given.”
Best Sources: Warren Bennis’ On Becoming a Leader, James O’Toole’s The Executive’s Compass: Business and the Good Society, Bill George’s True North: Discover Your Authentic Leadership co-authored with Peter Sims, and William C. Taylor’s Practically Radical: Not-So-Crazy Ways to Transform Your Company, Shake Up Your Industry, and Challenge Yourself
12. Management: In essence, managers organize and then complete tasks and among their most important tasks is supervising others. The most efficient managers do that most efficiently, with highly-developed emotional intelligence. I’ve always believed that managers help keep the promises that leaders make. With all due respect to compelling visions, someone has to take out the garbage, milk the cows, and turn off the lights. I agree with Thomas Edison: “Vision without execution is hallucination.”
Best Sources: Henry Mintzberg’s Management? It Isn’t What You Think!, Peter F. Drucker’s The Effective Executive: The Definitive Guide to Getting the Right Things Done, and Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done co-authored by Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan
13. Marketing: Create or increase demand for a customer-focused, multi-sensory experience that pro0mises a unique, enjoyable, and fulfilling experience. Initially, a “market” was a specific location; later, it was viewed as a specific segment of sellers/buyers (e.g. housing) and then as a cluster of demographics (e.g. males ages 29-45); later, marketing was defined as a brand, then a promise, and now an experience that creates “customer evangelists.”
Best Sources: Theodore Levitt’s The Marketing Imagination and Philip Kotler’s Kotler on Marketing.
14. Mergers & Acquisitions: Mergers are (usually) blended consolidations of two previously independent entities whereas acquisitions (usually) involve one entity being absorbed and then controlled by another. A majority of M&As fail or fall far short of expectations and the reasons vary but usually include irreconcilable cultural differences (e.g. values, silos, and turf issues).
Best Sources: Steve Steinhilber’s Strategic Alliances: Three Ways to Make Them Work (Memo to the CEO) and The Complete Guide to Mergers and Acquisitions: Process Tools to Support M&A Integration at Every Level co-authored by Timothy J. Galpin Mark Herndon
15. “Open” Mindset: This mindset is well-named because those who develop it are literally “open” (i.e. receptive to and respectful of) whatever possibilities they may encounter. They constantly ask “Why?” and “Why not?” They consider, compare/contrast, and integrate sometimes contradictory information but also opinions, assertions, theories, etc. The metaphor I use to describe this mindset is that it opens doors and windows and sheds light on whatever has possible relevance and value. The singe most significant, indeed defining characteristic of an open mindset is insatiable curiosity.
Best Sources: Henry Chesbrough’s Open Business Models: How to Thrive in the New Innovation Landscape, Open Innovation: The New Imperative for Creating And Profiting from Technology, and Open Services Innovation: Rethinking Your Business to Grow and Compete in a New Era as well as Roger Martin’s The Opposable Mind: Winning Trough Integratuve Thinking, and Morten T. Hansen’s Collaboration: How Leaders Avoid the Traps, Create Unity, and Reap Big Results
Lend Me Your Ears: Great Speeches in History
W.W. Norton (1997)
If there is a better anthology of great speeches, I am not aware of it.
The text from which its title is derived is Mark Antony’s speech in Shakespeare’s play, Julius Caesar, and is included among the hundreds in this volume. Credit Safire with a brilliant job of selecting and then introducing each. He should also be commended on his “An Introductory Address” which offers an exceptionally informative as well as entertaining explanation of eleven “secrets steps” when composing and then presenting a great speech. (i.e. “the meat and potatoes of oratory,” “the tricks of the speech trade”). They include the usual suspects such as structure (“shapeliness”), pulse, occasion, “forum” (or venue), focus, etc. Safire adds a few others which, in retrospect, seem obvious but really aren’t. For example, the importance of the first step: “Shake hands with your audience…Make the first step a quickstep; get your smile, then get to work.” Another: “Cross `em up now and then.” Safire suggests that great speeches are meant to be read, not spoken. “What every audience needs is a sense of completion.” Therefore, what the speaker needs “is a way out on a high note. That’s the necessary ingredient to shapeliness. That calls for peroration [which is] a devastating defense against the dread disease of dribbling off.”
It is worth noting that some great speeches had no significant impact when first delivered (e.g. Lincoln’s 266-word “Gettysburg Address”) and some are delivered only during a dramatic performance (e.g. Antony’s funeral oration); however, all great speeches continue to be read and admired long after being written.
I question the greatness of some of Safire’s selections for this volume, such as the draft he wrote for President Nixon in case the Apollo XI mission ended in tragedy. Fortunately, the speech (actually a brief statement to be read to a television camera) was never delivered and remained unread at the National Archives until 2001 when it re-appeared as part of a major exhibition. Safire himself does not claim that it is a great speech but selected it because “it shows how the context of a dreaded dramatic occasion can make memorable words written to be spoken aloud.” In this instance, the “occasion” rather than the content would have made Nixon’s remarks memorable. Read it (pages 1144-1145) and decide for yourself.
Of special interest to me are the following:
“General Patton Motivates the 3rd Army on the Eve of the Invasion of Europe” (pages 551-555)”: Actually, this is a “collated address” which provides the essence of dozens of extemporaneous statements by Patton. Those who have seen the opening scene of film are already familiar with Patton’s direct approach: “Now I want you to remember that no bastard ever won a war by dying for his country. You won it by making the other poor dumb bastard die for his country.” According to Safire, that statement is actually not in any of the contemporaneous accounts he knows about but “surely sounds like Patton.”
“Evangelist Sojourner Truth Speaks for Women’s Rights” (pages 684-685): As with Patton’s public remarks, there are several different versions and variations of the illiterate former slave’s as she traveled throughout the United States preaching “a message that combined religious and abolitionist ideas.” To his credit, Safire allows that message to be presented in standard English as presumably she spoke it, without “editorial prettification” (his words) nor “as if I was saying tickety-ump-ump-nicky-nacky” (her words).
“Broadcaster Edward R. Murrow Despairs of the Future of TV Journalism” (pages 771-778): This is what was then (1958) a highly controversial challenge to those who controlled the major networks (ABC, CBS, and NBC) to ensure that television programming achieves more, becomes more than “merely wires and lights in a box.” Murrow knew that his remarks would “enrage” his and other news journalists’ employers. In fact, that was his intention when speaking to the Radio and Television News Directors Association. Safire correctly notes that Murrow’s opening line (“This just might do nobody any good”) was doubly prophetic: his “heretical and even dangerous thoughts” weakened his authority and influence at CBS while revealing during his speech what someone else in the audience described as “the accents of [Murrow's] despair” concerning the commercialization of broadcast news.
Safire invites his readers to lend their “ears” to Patton, Truth, and Murrow as well as to dozens of others whose speeches can stir our blood (Daniel Webster re Bunker Hill), sound the clarion of war (Elizabeth I in defiance of the Spanish Armada), honor the memory of illustrious dead (Frederick Douglass on Abraham Lincoln), recall the clash of hot debate (Cicero lashing into Catiline), and nourish our soul (e.g. Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount). Safire also includes what he calls “the mother’s milk of this anthologist,” the political speech. A remarkable variety can be found in Chapter XII (pages 853-1,072) and range from Demosthenes’ attack of his accuser to Tony Blair’s exhortation to fight terrorism. Safire also includes three “undelivered speeches” in the final chapter, including his draft for Nixon. The other two are President John F. Kennedy’s prepared remarks for a luncheon in Dallas on November 22, 1963, and the draft of a speech of contrition that President Clinton rejected, preferring to “move on” instead.
To repeat, if there is a better anthology of great speeches, I am not aware of it.
In the 1400′s a law was set forth in England that a man was allowed to beat his wife with a stick no thicker than his thumb. Hence we have ‘the rule of thumb’
Many years ago in Scotland, a new game was invented. It was ruled ‘Gentlemen Only…Ladies Forbidden.’…and thus, the word GOLF entered
into the English language.
The first couple to be shown in bed together on prime time TV was Fred and Wilma Flintstone.
Every day more money is printed for Monopoly than by the U.S.
Men can read smaller print than women can; women can hear better.
Coca-Cola was originally green.
It is impossible to lick your elbow.
The state with the highest percentage of people who walk to work: Alaska
The percentage of Africa that is wilderness: 28% and (believe it or not)
The percentage of North America that is wilderness: 38%
The cost of raising a medium-size dog to the age of eleven: $ 16,400
The average number of people airborne over the U.S. during any given
Intelligent people have more zinc and copper in their hair.
The first novel ever written on a typewriter, Tom Sawyer.
The San Francisco cable cars are the only mobile National monuments.
Each king in a deck of playing cards represents a great king from history: Spades – King David; Hearts – Charlemagne; Clubs -Alexander,
the Great; and Diamonds – Julius Caesar.
111,111,111 x 111,111,111 = 12,345,678,987, 654,321
If a statue in the park of a person on a horse has both front legs in the air, the person died in battle. If the horse has one front leg in the air, the person died because of wounds received in battle. If the horse has all four legs on the ground, the person died of natural causes
Only two people signed the Declaration of Independence on July 4, John Hancock and Charles Thomson. Most of the rest signed on August 2, but
the last signature wasn’t added until five (5) years later.
Q: Half of all Americans live within 50 miles of what?
A: Their birthplace
Q: Most boat owners name their boats. What is the most popular boat name requested?
Q: If you were to spell out numbers, how far would you have to go until you would find the letter ‘A’?
A: One thousand
Q: What do bulletproof vests, fire escapes, windshield wipers and laser
printers have in common?
A: All were invented by women.
Q: What is the only food that doesn’t spoil?
Q: Which day are there more collect calls than any other day of the
A: Father’s Day
In Shakespeare’s time, mattresses were secured on bed frames by ropes.
When you pulled on the ropes, the mattress tightened, making the bed firmer to sleep on. Hence the phrase…’Goodnight, sleep tight’
It was the accepted practice in Babylon 4,000 years ago that for a month after the wedding, the bride’s father would supply his son-in-law with
all the mead he could drink. Mead is a honey beer and because their calendar was lunar based, this period was called the honey month, which we know today as the honeymoon.
In English pubs, ale is ordered by pints and quarts… So in old England, when customers got unruly, the bartender would yell at them ‘Mind
your pints and quarts, and settle down.’
Note: That’s where we get the phrase ‘mind your P’s and Q’s’
Many years ago in England, pub frequenters had a whistle baked into the rim, or handle, of their ceramic cups. When they needed a refill, they used the whistle to get some service. ‘Wet your whistle’ is the phrase inspired by this practice.