With the rise of video games in the late 20th century came the rise of cheat code culture: "Buy this book [or visit this site] and you will learn everything you need to win at Galactic Insect Invasion."

The advice is usually effective, if a little unsavory. But, in case you need a reminder, most of life--and starting a business in particular--is not like a video game. The annual Inc. 500 list serves as a colorful and potent reminder that there is no cheat code for business growth, no single path to success.

Take, for example, Josh Levin, founder of Empowered Electric (No. 210 on this year's list). He is about as far from the Harvard MBA path as it's possible to get. He may never even have become an electrician were it not for a fateful call from his future mother-in-law. But he quickly developed a vision for how a good and fair company should operate--and an instinctual sense that electrical contractors were underrepresented on Instagram. Or our subscribers' cover subject, Krystle Mobayeni, the daughter of Iranian immigrants, who discusses the winding road she took (and the stomach-churning moment when she feared she'd endangered her company's funding) en route to making BentoBox (No. 305) a restaurant-industry mainstay.

Another unusual success story comes from Loren Brill, founder of Sweet Loren's (No. 114), whose cookie company grew out of a desire to take charge of her diet during chemotherapy. The founders of this year's No. 1 company, the online ad operations firm Freestar, started off in the improbable business of publishing pinup calendars. It took more than one major pivot before they landed on the idea that would shoot them to the stars.

To the extent, then, that there is a cheat code for business, it's not a degree or a bank account or a set of lessons that everyone learns. It's more about creativity, flexibility, and persistence. At Inc., we won't guarantee that you will win the game. But we guarantee we will show you those qualities on every page.