Inc. At 20 Years!
Look back at the people and trends that shaped our world, 1979-1999

The Guru

My new best friend


My management guru and I were just talking a little basketball. Then I remembered something: I didn't know anything about basketball.

Yet Harvey Mackay, who by then had sold 2.3 million copies of his seminal work, Swim with the Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive, had reason to believe otherwise. It was in the name of research, I told myself--as he chatted amiably about my supposedly beloved hometown team--that I had countered his earlier query about my outside interests with an outright lie. But the truth was hard even for me to accept: I didn't have any outside interests. Even so, I knew I owed it to him to construct a more credible facade.

After all, facades were what Swim with the Sharks was all about. In it, Mackay shares his copyrighted method for organizing information about his envelope company's top customers. You win orders, Mackay contends, by seeming to remember the names of your customers' kids and the dates of their birthdays, or by feigning interest in your customers' favorite sport--like basketball, which Mackay dutifully brought up when I visited him in 1989. To my surprise, I felt guilty. His sincerity disarmed me. I felt like a louse.

And a bloated louse at that. As we dug into pie one evening, my management guru shared his regimen: five hours of sleep, out for a run at 6 a.m. At 57, he looked implausibly fit. "If you happen to be in good shape, there's nothing wrong with it," he said about using a full-body photo for the cover of his second book. I left my pie one bite short of finished.

The next morning I was prowling the hotel's spa at 6 a.m.

In time I lost 20 pounds. Here and there, I began scrawling the names of other people's kids on my Rolodex cards. Word reached me that Mackay despised my story " How to Write a Business Best-Seller" (March 1990). Years later, in a gesture lifted from his book, I sent him a clipping I thought he'd like. The ploy worked--just as he said it would. Mackay wrote back. This year I even told him he'd influenced me against my will. Then I asked my management guru to explain the source of that power of his. "It works because I'm living it every day," he quickly responded, referring to his role as a motivator of the masses. "I have nothing to hide, and I don't hold back anything. Remember, you don't have to have a good memory if you tell the truth."

I spent the night in my basement, excavating my stationary bike.

Joshua Hyatt is a senior editor at Inc.

The Spreadsheet

The perfect beauty of the fifth year out


The computer spreadsheet is an electronic crystal ball. Playing "what if?" with your company's prospects is like receiving tomorrow's horse-race results and betting on them today. Yet it wasn't long ago in these pages (see Inc., December 1993) that a crotchety executive excoriated the spreadsheet as "one of the worst things that ever happened to business." Kenneth H. Olsen, founder of Digital Equipment Corp., groused that in using a spreadsheet, "wrongly founded assumptions about what should happen replace accurate assessments of what is happening." He was, of course, blaming the garbage truck for the garbage. And what did happen is that Olsen got squeezed out of his own company for underestimating the future of the PC market.

It's kind of ironic that Daniel Bricklin, the father of the spreadsheet, worked at Digital just prior to the spreadsheet's invention and honed his programming skills there. He moved on to Harvard B-school, where he had to pencil numbers onto paper ledgers. Erasing and rewriting variables as case studies unfolded, he saw the marketability of an automated process. He started Software Arts and in 1979 published a $100 package called VisiCalc (for "visual calculator"). The software ran on an Apple II and made a neater job of number crunching. More important, it demonstrated that the new tabletop toys could actually be useful. And that revelation revolutionized the computer industry. The only flaw in the product's code was Bricklin's own: he insisted that his inspiration belonged to the masses and declined to patent it. The masses were less than grateful: Lotus and Microsoft ate their benefactor for breakfast.