Fast Company

Guess the source of this sentence: "Here's something you probably don't know about the Internet: Simply by designing your product the right way, you can build a billion-dollar business from scratch."

Is this:
a) The latest spam in your inbox;
b) The voiceover of your fantasy about Google's takeover of your company;
c) None of the above.

Well, duh, (this is Mag Rack, after all), the correct answer is "c." The sentence actually starts the cover article in May's Fast Company -- a piece that has already been widely trashed as puffery on social network company Ning. What I find oddest here is the get-rich-quick vibe in the article's discussion of "viral loops" -- the "Secret Power Behind Google, eBay and Facebook," according to FC's cover line.

The Ning article isn't the only one in this issue to sensationalize a questionable point. Take the piece on how globalized medicine -- incorporating cheaper care from Asian hospitals into U.S. medical insurance -- could be the magic bullet that saves our health-care system. At least this story is more objective, providing some opposing arguments, though it pooh-poohs my biggest objection to global medicine: the requirement to fly to some far-off land. A fearful flyer, I've kidded that I won't get on a plane flight without a personal anesthesiologist to relax me during the trip. Now, I'll have to take a long flight just to find an affordable anesthesiologist?

I still don't understand why the editors give so much play -- 10 pages, including a full-page shot of a broken leg covered with travel posters -- to this interesting but impractical idea. (Also, disturbingly, the plan's main proponent, Ruben Toral, is described as a "dead ringer for George Clooney." I've seen Toral's picture, and that's just wrong! You, sir, are no George Clooney.)

Clearly, FC sometimes stumbles while trying to encapsulate what's new and trendy in business. Many of the shorter, more focused stories work better, like one on a guy who's bringing "green-collar jobs to the urban poor."

The piece that best marries a fresh topic with insight on making better business is one that explains how insurance company FM Global researches ways to prevent risks. "Staffers are constantly setting things on fire. Or blowing them up," begins the piece, irresistibly -- it would make a great video on the FC Web site.

I also loved April's profile of my favorite fashion guru, "Project Runway"'s Tim Gunn, that includes details on his childhood (he's the son of an FBI agent!) and describes how he went out on a limb to revamp Parsons' design school curriculum. Unlike the Ning profile, proper skepticism is shown here toward Gunn's new endeavor -- CEO of struggling design company Liz Claiborne. Gunn is quoted saying "I think we're going to be a Harvard Business School case study." The story's last line: "Here's hoping it's not a postmortem."

The Gunn profile, illustrated with such clever graphicisms as text blocks that look like clothing labels, is typical of the stylish level of the mag's art direction. Much of the writing is of a fairly high quality, too.

Still, April's cover story "The Brand Called Obama," also suffers from the faults seen in the mag's other long-form stories. While trying to come up with exciting new insights on why Obama's campaign has all sorts of lessons for business, the piece rambles unoriginally. Yes, his staff knows how to harness the Web 2.0 generation, and yes, he's the first major black candidate. So? The dots are never quite connected.

In its attempt to create cutting-edge theory, FC sometimes cuts its own credibility.

Published by:
Mansueto Ventures
Frequency: 10 issues a year
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