Our Ranked Based LifeLet's not mess around.

After you're done reading this post, rank it.

Rank it against what though? And with what kind of system?

Maybe with a score of 1 to 10 or a grade of A to F. Maybe rank it against other articles about a certain topic.

But are they articles from the past month? The past decade?

Getting the questions right are the key to getting the answers at the end that will be valuable to you.

Thank You Malcolm Gladwell

Have I mentioned before that I love The New Yorker magazine?

It's one gem after another and an especially sparkly one is from Malcolm Gladwell called “The Order of Things.” Check out the sizzle of the abstract here.

Don't be put off that the case studies are about something you might not care about; cars and college rankings. This has applications for everyone, everywhere, and in all walks of life.

I'm not going to waste your time convincing you that our lives and decisions are based on rankings. If you don't buy into this premise consider this for a moment.

At their core, online search portals like Google are ranking engines that attempt to bubble up the most important or useful content for a search term.

In the offline world, searches might have more meat to them, but they still frame their content in the form of rankings. US World and News ranks colleges and other complicated things. Consumer Reports ranks just about everything under the sun that can be purchased.

When you search, maybe your quest is to:

  • Satisfy some fleeting curiosity
  • To settle a bet
  • To help make some small decision

But what about the information we rely on to shape what we ultimately become, where we live, what we eat and who we trust to influence us?

How much time have you spent thinking about the variables and weightings of the variables in the rankings that assist us with the big decisions in life?

I can see it now. You just spent big money on a new TV because it ranked high in your favorite review website. Or perhaps you spent an hour comparing rankings for carbon monoxide detectors because you don't like the idea of dying silently.

Maybe you or your kid used US World and News to form the basis of where to spend 4+ years and tens of thousands of dollars for higher education.

Using Resources Based on Ranking

My eyes have been opened like a startled bunny being chased by a dog.

And not like my dog Lucia, who might look cute, but hides under cars waiting to ambush bunnies.


Previously I never thought how the people and the algorithms behind rankings have the power to punish in very severe ways. Heard about how Google punished JCPenney and put the hurt on Overstock.com?

It makes me think: Can entities that can enact punishment in rankings (and therefore determine the fate of people, institutions or companies) really be trusted without some critical thinking? Can we afford to have their value not be called into question?

The Alternative to a Rank Based Life

I would rather not go back to the time when I had to spend hours or days doing my own research and coming up with my own rankings. I'm old enough to remember that and it wasn't a walk in the park.

The fact there are so many people, companies and websites ranking things I didn't even know could be ranked is pretty schweet.

Ask yourself: Would you rather do your own research and come up with your own formula(s) for judging, selecting and ranking? Maybe. Depends on the topic and how important the outcome of the research is to you.

100 years ago people didn't rank things and they were still able to function. It was a less complex world but the consequences for taking action were still the same.

100 years from now real-time rankings will be available for any situation, choice and course of action we can dream of.

I worry about this trend. I worry that we – as a society – are becoming unable to process information and make decisions without someone else subjectively applying weighting we might not agree with (or understand) and without knowing the undisclosed biases.

Take a Step Back

At the start of this post I asked you to rank it. I asked you to consider the scale, the comparison content, and the length of time for the ranking. I could ask you to consider even more variables but I won't.

But consider this:

  • If you actually had to write down your ranking system and quantify it, could you?
  • When ranking, can you do better than just a random number and scale? The kind that you could break down for someone and explain quickly?

Based on your answers, here are suggestions for where you go from here.

If You Care That You Answered No to Them All

Do your own research on the variables and weightings behind common rankings. Use Google if you want, but understand the information they present might not be ranked in a way that synchs up with the way you operate and think.

Use WorldCat to prepare for your next trip to the library. You'll be able to dig up all sorts of good content to explore on your own.

Challenge yourself, your family, your friends – anyone you care about – to analyze the variables and weighting behind rankings. Don't know what they are? Find out.

If You Don't Care You Answered No

Pass Go, collect 200 dollars and blissfully enjoy the ride. Just don't be mad when you realize you were in the wheelbarrow instead of the race car.

Bottom line: Don't waste a resource as powerful as your brain. Understand rankings and you will be better equipped to organize the information and decisions unfolding around you.

So how would you rank this post? Leave your score in the comments..

Photo credit: foreign language blog