You may recall the best-selling business book "Who Moved My Cheese?" -- a cringe-worthy parable where mice and "little people" illustrate the not-exactly revelatory point that change is necessary.
I knew Inc.'s BS-meter was working correctly when it gave "Cheese" a much-deserved bitch-slap. The book is often used as an example of the lowest rating in two categories ("rigor" and "readability") in the mag's monthly reviews of business volumes.
As "The Handbook of the American Entrepreneur," Inc. provides its own share of advice, but it's of a consistently high level -- nothing, dare I say, cheesy.
Tightly focused case histories (like December's piece on a hacker stealing a Web site design template) advise by example, with management experts and business peers also providing perspective.
To answer a basic business question -- "What To Pay Your Top Team"-- the March issue (where all the examples to follow were published) slices and dices hard-to-come-by data from small to mid-sized privately held companies into three useful charts, with info categorized by geography, industry, and size of company.
Then there are the monthly columnists -- who, under deadline pressure at many pubs, are often guilty of providing trite tidbits. But Inc.'s regulars usually freshen up the well-worn concept. For example, Joel Spolsky's anecdote about his encounter with a thoughtless general in the Israeli army puts a new spin on the idea that "a leader can't lose sight of what it means to be a grunt."
Spolsky's snappy writing is typical of the mag's editorial quality as a whole. In fact, Inc. is one of the few business mags to pass my own rigor and readability test: is it compelling enough to skim at the gym? An as-told-to on Howard Lefkowitz, CEO of the tourism Web site Vegascom, kept me entertained during 40 mind-numbing minutes on the elliptical trainer. Lefkowitz' voice -- funny, kibitzing, interested in everything -- comes through beautifully in stories about keeping his employees amused and playing poker with his daughter in their scuba pool.
Indeed, Inc. excels at showing how the human side of big-deal entrepreneurs relates to their companies -- like Evan Williams, whose oddly compelling, uncorporate-like personality seems to fit the philosophy of his biggest success, Twitter.
And whether it's human interest or a trend piece on the sudden "title creep" of chief revenue officers, Inc.'s writers usually muster some wit to make the business lessons more palatable. For example, from "Understanding Geeks": "Don't wait to befriend tech support. Sudden sucking up followed shortly by a request to help move your iTunes library to a new machine is transparent and will backfire."
Graphics are another strong point, with a mix of typefaces, photos and illustrations mirroring the best of a substantive yet glossy consumer magazine.
Also putting on the gloss: the feature "Things I Can't Live Without," where successful entrepreneurs pose with the toys they bought with their money -- from a high-tech wine cellar to $495 linen sheets and a $1,155 bag.
It's all very Lucky -- and it may be a way for Inc. to attract more luxury advertising, which, according to Mediaweek, "remains one of the few categories business books can bank on these days."
Still, I'd like to see Inc. succeed for its great writing and editing, not for its aspirational shopping hints. After all, isn't attracting readers with a high-quality product just, well, good business?
Published by: Manseuto Ventures LLC