181. I am now (again) a Top Writer in Ideas. But what does that mean and why does it matter?
Welcome to the Sparks of Innovation series. This is where I write about ideas, concepts and events that either have sparked a fresh thought in me or rekindled an old flame. It’s where I look at things that cross my path and inspire me to think or act differently, and share that thinking in easily digestible form. If you feel like reading about some random phenomenon I want to call attention to, this is for you. If you’re not really up for a discussion about the topic at hand, stop here!
I started writing on Medium a couple of years ago. At one point, I saw my followers 10x in six months. The reason? At the time, I was a Top Writer in Business, Life Lessons, Creativty, Culture and Ideas.
Now I’ve reached my blog post #181, and once again, I have gotten one of these nice “Top Writer” titles.
But what does it mean?
What do badges and titles mean in general?
And why should you care?
The simple answer is that badges matter more than you might think, and to different people than you might expect.
For those in the sphere, a badge of honour can be anything from ridiculous to a life goal
Winning an Oscar. Receiving a Nobel prize. Getting that Michelin star. Some achievements and accolades are so prestigious that once you’ve crossed that line, it’ll change your life – and rightfully so.
But not all stamps of approval have the power of a certain golden statuette. In fact, most industry awards, certifications, etc. are unknown outside the borders of their own domain, and some of them aren’t even known by everyone inside their own industry!
Still, even if the world doesn’t know what it means to win an Otto for best mechanics or has any idea who gets awarded The Golden Plunger (it’s real!), these kinds of honours can mean a lot to those, who receive them. I’ve got a few lifetime awards that are pretty niché, but still mean an awful lot to me.
That’s not to say that everything that people come up with has the same gravitas.
I spent more than twenty years in live action role play communities, and while you can find the prestigious there, you can also find the ridiculed.
But that’s for the insiders. To me, it’s a lot more interesting to look at what accolades mean to those who have no clue…
We humans love it when others say “This! I like this!”
And nowhere is it more obvious when it comes to stamps of approval that we don’t understand. Looking at a board game in a store and suddenly notice that it’s won an award?
It makes you feel safer in your choice, even if you can’t distinguish between a random hack certification done by a guy in his garage for his own game or the career-making distinction of “Spiel des Jahres” from Essen Spiel. To an insider, they are a galaxy apart, but I’ve seen outsiders treat them as the same.
And why should we expect otherwise?
Only the very biggest of awards and badges and ratings reach outside their own little pond, and in today’s increasingly global and interconnected world, it has never been easier to make something small sound big.
I’ve met one-man shows that called themselves International Councils, and I’ve been nominated for an award that sound weird and small, but turned out to be quite a big thing.
Add to that the simple fact that we respect continuity, so that anything which has a certain longevity to it automatically gains in authority.
The Otto (mentioned earlier) was laughed at by many when it was introduced in the early 90’s. Today’s it’s arguably the closest thing the global roleplaying world had to an Oscar and the award ceremonies contain the same amount of tears on stage as the Hollywood ones.
So the mere fact of mentioning that so-and-so won such-and-such in 1997 or that this gizmo has been given an A+ by this-and-this magazine for four years straight — that matters, even if we have no idea what the institutions behind it are or what it actually means. It feels safer, nonetheless.
So here’s a tip: If you want to appeal to “outsider” audiences, then awards, badges, certifications and stamps of approval do wonders
It doesn’t matter if you’re in the circus sphere, the toaster oven business or the Nigerian diaper market — which is expected to explode as Nigeria’s population goes from 195m to 402m in 2050. If you want to impress the unenlightened, there are few ways that are easier than by creating stamps of approval within your own industry.
It may take time for it to gain any sort of credibility in your regular circles, but you can be assured that those of us, who only know a little bit about your industry… we’ll notice these things and be affected by them. The reason is simple.
Someone else cared enough to stand by this product / service / event / company / idea.
That is something we like, whether we’re looking for a new brand of labels, a place to celebrate our honeymoon or a new podcast to listen to.
And what about me and my position as a Top Writer in Ideas on Medium?
Back when I was a Top Writer in several categories, I saw my blog 10x in followers in half a year.
So, while it’s not as hard to climb to the top in “Ideas” as it is in “Business” or “Life Lessons”, I am still confident that this will mean my stuff gets seen by more people and that some out there will notice that small stamp of approval.
And even if nothing changes whatsoever, Medium has still managed to impress and motivate one person.
Claus Raasted is an Innovation Strategist, and recently wrote “The Innovation Cycle”. He serves as the Director of the College of Extraordinary Experiences, is a Coach at McKinsey & Company and is a founding partner at the Global Institute For Thought Leadership. He also has a past in reality TV, but these days, who hasn’t?