Almost every month in the year unveils the latest top 10, top 50, or top 100 list.
A few weeks ago, Time magazine profiled its 100 world influencers, from Secretary of State Hilary Clinton to comic actor Kristen Wiig. The Wall Street Journal routinely anoints people to watch and calls the year’s hits and misses in different industries. Fortune has an iron grip on two of the most coveted: “most admired” and “best places to work.”
All of which spawn trade and local media cover stories on the “best” and “worst” and “on the fence.”
Sure, these kinds of headlines sell magazines and newspapers. Any editor worth his/her stock options would tell you that. But spare us. Please.
Behind what seems like an innocuous pastime, one that might be credited, in part, to Richard Blackwell’s Ten Worst Dressed Women’s list (now going strong via the Huffington Post) is an amazing industry. What does it mean to achieve these somewhat elusive accolades? Hours and days and weeks are spent crafting the right prose for award – er, list submissions. Weighty binders stuffed with testimonials and factual documents crowd judges’ desks. Real-live business firms specialize in managing and/or measuring entries, helping validate the winners.
Truth: How much weight do ordinary folks, like you and us, give to these lists? How much does it influence our choice of whom to work for and where to invest?
As a very random and definitely unscientific sampling, we asked some of our younger relatives and friends’ kids about their college choices. No surprise these days, tuition cost was number one for selecting post-high-school institutions. As were location and environment, where their friends were matriculating, and whether the higher form of education offered courses and majors in their fields of interest. [Okay, sometimes the school’s party-party reputation factored in too.]
Then we showed them different publication rankings. Sure, they’d seen them. On the other hand, not one of the teens really cared. [Their parents did, though.] Said one: ‘I wanted to find a good school, close to home, where I could get a ROTC scholarship and support for my dental degree.”
Wouldn’t it be great if that kind of pragmatism infused American businesses? Then list-making would revert to its original purpose: A bona fide way for individuals and teams to schedule and track what was accomplished – or not.