The good news is that I am one of ‘New Zealand’s Most Influential Entrepreneurs’. The bad news is that if I want to make the list, it’s going to cost me.
My dopamine skyrocketed, a few days ago, when an email headline appeared on my phone. Chosen to be “honoured” as one of the “10 Most Influential New Zealand Entrepreneurs to Watch in 2023” by APAC Entrepreneur Magazine.
I’m not sure how much I really want to be “watched” in 2023. But influential? Moi?! Fainting.
Magazine and other media lists of successful people have become a staple of modern corporate sociocissism. The most inspiring this. More powerful than 30 Less than 30. 40 Less than 40. Eventually we will have 8 billion less than 8 billion and everyone’s mothers will be proud.
But until then, we’ll have shorter lists that will make those on them feel warm, gooey, and superior on the inside. How I was feeling. For a moment.
As I opened the email, unease washed over me.
The email was totally justified. By that I do not mean that I was a worthy recipient. I speak in the typographical sense. Where “full justification” means that all lines of text extend exactly to the left and right edges, just like they do in a book.
Anyone who has used email for a while knows that fully justified emails bring trouble. No one fully justifies their emails. Unless they’re using Mailchimp. And sure enough, my Superhuman email app displayed an “unsubscribe” button, which means that the email I was reading had been sent to a list of people. Too large of a list to easily send a regular old blind carbon copy email. So, uh, more than 10 people.
Then there was the copy. After some opening remarks promoting his huge reader base and a truism about how he had “garnered the attention of our editorial board for setting a benchmark in his industry,” I was “wholeheartedly welcomed” as one of the ’10 Most Influential New Zealand Entrepreneurs to Watch in 2023’”.
It was not mentioned exactly why he was on this list. It’s easy to put names in a templated mass email. It’s a lot more work to automate writing an email that goes into detail about the recipient.
Then, after much more propaganda about this special “honour” (this time written in British English), came the kick. “To support this effort, we have established a standard sponsorship fee of $2,500.”
Yes, only $2,500 was all he would have to pay to “enjoy the benefits” of this auspicious honor.
I wrote them back. “Thank you for the invite. How did you hear about me and what is it specifically about me and my company that you think is worth featuring?”
They responded by quoting me a line from the “about” page of my company’s website: “As part of our investigation, we discovered,” presumably through a minute-long Google search, “that you created a team of entrepreneurs, researchers , specialists in strategy. consultants and designers working collectively on innovation consulting, brand building, design, and much more.”
Anyone can guess why that would make me influential or worth writing about. And it really made me think.
When people read about awards and recognition published by outlets like APAC Entrepreneur, they assume the recipients are worthy. That is, the publication has spent time studying the industry and its people, and objectively identifying those who have made an outstanding contribution.
These lists are only of any value if we share information about truly effective people and companies worth learning from, so we can all move up the ranks.
But the honor bestowed on me demonstrates what many of these really are: money-making schemes from publishers who populate their “most” lists exclusively with people who are willing to pay for recognition that has in no way been earned. .
It is the ego-industrial complex. It’s absurd. And it’s more common than you think. One of my clients from the US, who has a gender-ambiguous name, told me that she was frequently asked to be on “Most Inspirational Female Leaders” lists.
Like yours, the email I received was nothing more than a fishing expedition. An email presumably sent to anyone in Aotearoa with “founder” or similar in their LinkedIn profile.
And what would the resulting list of most influential businessmen achieve? It would be made up entirely of people who could afford the $2,500 and were desperate enough to want to fake boost their own profile.
Is that who we want our entrepreneurial community to admire, learn from and aspire to be?
I understand that the media business is financially challenging and that media platforms need financial assistance. I donate or subscribe to many, including The Spinoff, because I believe journalism is important and valuable and worth supporting. If APAC Entrepreneur had shown that they had gone through a process of vetting people and determining a fair and equitable list of worthy recipients, I would be willing to support their efforts.
But this mercenary way of compiling these lists means that only those who can afford the fee appear, which will naturally suppress minority groups, the young, early-stage entrepreneurs, and anyone making significant mahi without a cash reserve at your disposal. Most of which are the ones we really should be celebrating and learning from.
Is there a better way? Of course. And it would be the reverse of what is currently happening. An initiative of “10 New Zealand Entrepreneurs Worth Learning From”. Any contenders would have to be nominated by someone else. An experienced panel would investigate and make a considered decision on the 10 recipients. And it would cost nothing; in fact, a cash prize would be awarded to the winners so they can promote their good work.
Maybe there are worthy donors in the business community who will make that happen. In the meantime, I’ll be interested to see who ends up “making” APAC Entrepreneur’s Top 10 Most Influential New Zealand Entrepreneurs list. But I think they should probably call it “10 New Zealand Entrepreneurs With Big Egos And $2500”.