As I pointed out in this space last month, the CEOs of the INC. 500 don't necessarily represent the country's leading management practitioners, any more than do their counterparts on the Fortune 500. Rather, the INC. 500's significance lies in the fact that each of these companies has created a product or service with enough meaningful differentiation in the eyes of the customer to have generated very rapid revenue growth.

By the same token, these companies must confront the challenge of preserving that distinction in the face of the myriad forces threatening to erode it. These forces are everywhere, and all the more insidious because individually they are so subtle: the need to add new employees to keep pace with revenue growth; pressures from government and the courts; the imperative felt by most young companies to "grow up," and begin thinking and acting like their Fortune 500 counterparts.

Jerry Ellis, founder and president of a discount retail business, is one executive who has strong feelings on the matter. "The Forces of Conformity" (page 119), by Ellen Wojahn, chronicles Ellis's battle with what he calls "the thousand things that rob a company of distinction." While the story offers no solutions, it dramatizes a point of view from which all managers should be routinely evaluating themselves and their organizations.