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Fueling the Fast Companies

Workplace-watcher Alan Webber cites three reasons for a sea of change in corporate culture:

1. Technology is washing like a tidal wave over traditional business structures and hierarchies. Instead of rigid boundaries come fluid organizations dominated by communication.

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"Information technology in the form of e-mail and the Web has really let the genie out of the bottle," Mr. Webber says. "In the old model, the most important person had the biggest office. Today the most important person gets the most e-mail and is being asked the most questions by his or her colleagues." For companies, that means a move toward flexible design of work.

2. Power and responsibility belongs, increasingly, to baby boomers, women, and people in their 20s and 30s.

"These [people] come into the world of work with very different expectations and experiences than the World War II generation that's starting to move off the stage," he says. "There is a sense of experimentation - change is not only OK, it's essential."

3. The marketplace, more than ever, wants talent. "Look at what free agents in the world or sports, entertainment, consulting, and Wall Street are making," says Webber. "The team with the smartest, best, most committed players wins. It's almost self-evident."

As the pace of competition picks up, the impact of such individuals is magnified. "The line between somebody who can really deliver a first-class piece of software, on time, on budget, and somebody who comes in with something that's good, and a little late and a little more expensive matters - a lot." Hence the competition to hire star performers.

Alan Webber's Vision

'Fast companies' ...

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'We're seeing more and more companies realize that if they want the talent to come into the company, they have to create an environment where people have the freedom to think, create, choose, grow. And that's not only good for the people, that's ultimately good for the company....

'It really does correspond to the espoused sense of values of people who live in the United States of America. It is all about small-"d" democracy.'

The new career ...

'It could be that it's not about money. Not just the biggest paycheck, but where do I get to work where I can have fun, have ownership, have colleagues that I like, an environment that I like to live in.... People don't just want to make a living. They want to make a difference.'

Commitment ...

'Because the world of work is becoming so much more dependent on trust, and reliability, and personal integrity, good behavior is rewarded with more work, more contracts, and more opportunity. And bad behavior is punished. That's why commitment is so important.'

Some steps Mr. Webber recommends:

* Get online. Learn how to use the World Wide Web and get an electronic mail account.

* Demonstrate an ability to finish what you start in everything that you do. The world is fast paced; those that show commitment to a task will be rewarded.

* Young people who develop technology skills will command premium jobs. Learn how technology works by taking classes.

* Remember, you are your most important product.

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