At MIT Sloan School of Management, William C. (“Bill”) Taylor earned more than just his MBA.
“Something is happening and it affects us all. A global revolution is changing Business and business is changing the world,” were the first words in Fast Company’s inaugural 1995 issue.
That year may seem like an era ago. Indeed, many of us couldn’t then have imagined a day when all of the trends that drive business culture would be just a touchscreen away. But Taylor’s true instinct for innovation would both foresee and drive those trends for years to come.
Taylor met the co-founder of Fast Company, Alan Webber, while the two worked for the Harvard Business Review. The two quickly clicked as both creative and business partners, and thus spawned the “movement.”
A 2000 New York Times article described something oddly prescient—the rise of viral marketing. Picture a character from the HBO show Silicon Valley, before this culture was ever recorded or prevalent—attending an event known as a “cell.” With a revolutionary impulse and the knowledge that change was coming, people flocked to these events, learning about them not via FaceTime or SnapChat, but from simple word of mouth. People like this flocked together via the charismatic tone of Taylor and Webber’s message.
Taylor and Webber foresaw the rise of technology as not just a tool comprised of nameless worker bees in a dystopia, but a true force through which business is shaped and transformed.
It was clear that this was a message that was meaningful not only to the “technorati” of the Silicon Valley or to former Deadheads who were now MBAs, but also to a worldwide audience. The working stiff waiting in the supermarket aisle had access as well. “We’ve traveled an amazing distance since our premier issue. We’ve evolved from a hot young maverick to a world-class business magazine. We’ve gone from a launch distribution of 100,000 copies to a total circulation of more than 725,000 and a readership of more than 3 million, making us the fastest-growing business magazine ever,” Taylor noted, as he handed the magazine’s editing duties over in July 2003.
During the past decade, Taylor has managed to continue to evolve as a thinker. He regularly writes a blog for one of his launch pads, Harvard Business Review (HBR). He also has taught at Babson College as an adjunct professor.
One of Taylor’s recent articles for HBR addresses the shift in thinking on preserving buildings in a swiftly transforming American business culture. Describing a true moment of innovation, Taylor writes, “…One of my favorite innovation initiatives was one of the simplest. Northwest University has reimagined an old, musty, on-campus parking garage as an incubator space for budding entrepreneurs, complete with 3-D printers, interactive screens, and loads of software… Why did I find this particular complex so intriguing? Because, truth be told, I have a soft spot for parking garages. In my forthcoming book, Simply Brilliant, I study game-changing leaders who have done extraordinary things in pretty ordinary fields, from retail banking to fast-food joints.”
This view of innovation as a transformation of old structures into new is vital as we attempt to make sense of the increasingly unwieldy environment of change in business.
Simply Brilliant is available currently on Amazon.
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