Ranked Nation

April 23, 2011

Ranked Nation

          I think about rankings and scorecards all the time. Afterall, I cut my teeth on Fortune’s Most Admired Companies years back.  At the time, there were not many competing scorecards. And, afterall,  today we have an active rankings practice at Weber Shandwick that we call Scoreboxx. We help companies all the time understand what rankings are important to pursue and which are not worth the time. There is barely a day that I don’t hear about a new scorecard or as I have mentioned in a post I wrote on reputation trends, a newworst-of  list.  In fact, I have started collecting worst-of lists because they fascinate me as much as best-of  lists. Strange hobby but who knows, they could be worth something in the future. Not really.
Today’s New York Times had a fascinating article on the rankings and metrics obsession that we seem to live by.  The writer even predicted how the frenzy will only rise as we enter the serious election campaign. Little did she probably know that the op-ed page in today’s NYT had a chart on how Donald Trump was measuring up as a front runner in several polls as a presidential candidate.  Here are some the quotes from the rankings article that I highlighted for sakekeeping. They go far in explaining our rankings addiction.

“Numbers make intangibles tangible,” said Jonah Lehrer, a journalist and author. “They give the illusion of control.”

“The trouble, though, is when we mindlessly and blindly rely on those numbers to tell us everything,” said Sherry Turkle, a professor of social studies of science and technology and director of MIT. “Just because we have the skills and ability to put metrics on everything doesn’t mean we should.”

“This reliance and overweening trust in numbers is to some extent generational,” said Howard Gardner, a professor of cognition and education at Harvard Graduate School of Education. “For almost anybody in the United States under the age of 25, the only models are quantifiable rankings,” he said.

 A few comments. I don’t think we can blame everything on the younger generation although Gardner has a point about everything being quantified for them (SATs), so why shouldn’t they apply it everywhere else?  The truth is that all age cohorts use rankings to pick the best restaurant, best travel location, best employer and best college to apply for.  We’re all hooked.

The article also goes into how authors end up measuring themselves by Amazon rankings of books sold.  As the author of two books, people always ask me how many books did you sell? Personally, I have no idea since I wrote the books out of love for my topic, reputation, and much much less for my status on the number of books sold.  However, I sometimes think I am not a very good author because I don’t know the answer to this frequently asked question and I’d be a better person if I at least knew. Despite that, I have to get better at checking Google Analytics to see how many people read my blog. When I have looked at it in the past, I could not figure out whether I should be blogging on Fridays or Mondays or Thursdays and just gave up. I have to get better at this because I don’t know how I fare!

Another element in the article certainly caught my eye. It referred to a blog posting on Online Status Anxiety by Jonah Lehrer who has a new book out on How We Decide.  He is so right. People are obsessed also with the number of followers and fans and likes.  Our social ranking is now quantified.  Yikes. Here is a selection I took out of Jonah Lehrer’s blog posting:

“Now that the social web is maturing – the platforms have been winnowed down to a select few (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.) – some interesting commonalities are emerging. The one shared feature that I’m most interested in is also a little disturbing: the tendency of the social software to quantify our social life. Facebook doesn’t just let us connect with our friends: it counts our friends. Twitter doesn’t just allow us to aggregate a stream of chatter: it measures our social reach. LinkedIn has too many damn hierarchies to count. Even the staid blog is all about the metrics, from page views to unique visitors.”

I think I am going to check out my blog postings metrics today! Enough slacking on the metrics. My online reputation should be the measure of my life!

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Leslie Gaines-Ross
Leslie Gaines-Ross
lesliegainesross@gmail.com

As Weber Shandwick’s Chief Reputation Strategist, I focus on the ever changing world of reputation. For the past 25 years, I have relentlessly observed, researched and commented on the rise and fall of reputations.

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