Q&A With Alan Webber
What attracted you to the BIF Summit?
Saul (Kaplan, BIF Founder and Chief Catalyst) invited me and I always try to do anything Saul asks me to do. That said, I’ve attended many a BIF summit and I find them fun, friendly, forward-thinking, and full of good people who have checked their egos at the door and are there for all the right reasons.
Tell us just a bit about the subject of your BIF Summit story.
At the moment, I’m thinking I’ll talk about the line that connects the first issue of Fast Company back in 1995 to the rise of entrepreneurship in the 2000s, to my decision to run for Governor of New Mexico in 2014, to where we are now, which is basically all politics all the time — and what comes next. But that’s just me mulling.
Twenty-something years ago, when Bill Taylor and I founded Fast Company, our first letter from the editors talked about how the world was changing and business was changing the world. Business used to be a boring section in the newspaper. Then, it moved from the back page to the front page. Sports stories became stories about contracts and new franchises. Film stories became stories about the opening weekend numbers.
For the next 20 years, the most talked-about thing was what startup are you working on, when is the next bubble, artificial intelligence, Google, entrepreneurial heroes, and even superheroes, such as Elon Musk, poster child for Ironman.
When I was running the Harvard Business Review, Harvard Business School Dean John MacArthur used to say, “whatever industry the most HBS graduates went into, I would short it. Once an industry has become that ubiquitous, with so many people gravitating to it, it’s past its peak.”
It’s like when everyone is on the same side of the sailboat. It’s a dangerous situation when the boat’s so off-kilter, it could tip over. Four or five years ago, I had a second epiphany — the public sector was the unmanned and un-womanned side of the boat. Government had become irrelevant, a lagging indicator. We had outsourced government service to people who considered it as entrepreneurship for their own self-interest.
So I thought I’d run over to other side of the boat and lead a conversation about how the importance of civic engagement. The best way to make that case was to run for office. I didn’t win, but I was right about the direction I was seeing.
Now, business has been politicized. Even AI has become a social issue — what will happen when white collar jobs are gone? There’s been a backlash against globalization, innovation, the marketplace as an arbiter of all things, and the elites deciding our future.
What, to you, is the value of sharing stories?
Stories are how we explore who we are and what we believe, and how we connect with each other.
Do you have a motto, or “words to live by”? If so, what is it?
Facts are facts and stories are how we learn — which has the virtue of being true.
What’s one thing (or more, if you like) would you like Summit attendees to know about you before they hear your story?
I have an unerring ability to anticipate the future and predict it accurately. But don’t tell anyone. Also, I have a surfeit of humility. More seriously, I’ve always believed that the name of game is pattern recognition. Can you see how patterns fit together and from those patterns come up with stories that offer solutions?