America is obsessed with lists. So rather than write about why we like lists, I offer a list of why Americans are obsessed with lists:
- We like ordering what is best or worst because it fits into our competitive culture.
- We don’t have the time or intellectual energy to read prosaic descriptions. Lists do the thinking for us.
- Lists are like a gauntlet for disagreement. No one ever read a list they personally agreed with.
- Lists are a marketing dream when prefaced with words like “Top” or “Most” or “Sexiest.”
So why are we entering an already crowded—and overwhelmingly vapid—world of list creation? Because we at HealthLeaders feel like we need to make a point that there are people in our industry who are changing the way healthcare works and fixing what does not. We write about such people in every issue of the magazine. Still, once a year, we feel like we must recognize a select group in a way that fits the context of the times.
We will, however, create the HealthLeaders 20 our way. First and foremost, we did not take nominations. In fact, we did get a few people who sent inquiries based on the editorial calendar; we told them thanks but no thanks. The HealthLeaders 20 are selected by our editorial staff based on the people we meet, the things we hear, the information we read—they are people we believe are doing something to fix an industry crying out for revolutionaries.
Our list is not a popularity contest. In fact, some of the people we selected are decidedly unpopular. Lists are often populated with controversial people, but if it is done just to draw attention, then such lists are transparent and useless. The people on our list—whether you agree with them or not—have done something significant to close a problem in healthcare, or they have drawn the industry’s attention to the right places.
Our list is merely a list. You may have noticed the list is not preceded with the ubiquitous superlative descriptor. It’s just 20 people doing something worthwhile. They are not even ranked. We don’t want to imply these are the only 20. Exclusion from this list implies nothing.
So if we disdain lists so much, why are we doing one? There is nothing inherently wrong with the structure of lists. They are as good or bad as the idea and selection behind them. Done correctly, lists are an effective communication tool. In particular, we feel that healthcare is an industry that needs to look at its agents of change differently. With rising costs, unabating uninsured growth and a shameful error rate, the industry must accept that change will often be painful and come from people and places you least expect.