What we can all learn from McKinsey’s top 10 articles of 2016

Blog post

I possibly shouldn’t be admitting to this, but I’m always excited to see new data that has the potential to offer insights into how senior executives are engaging with thought leadership. So it’s like Christmas Day all over again (without the board games or the indigestion) when firms publish their “top 10” lists at the beginning of the year.

Take, for example, McKinsey’s Top 10 articles of 2016. Here are four lessons that I see in this list:

  1. Your audience wants to hear from “people like me” or, for more junior and ambitious readers, “people like the people I need to impress/want to be”. Most popular with McKinsey.com users in 2016 was What CEOs are reading, billed as “Leaders of some of the world’s biggest organizations reveal which books kept them occupied.” And number ten on the list is a “personal reflection” on how mediation can help you be a better leader: Want to be a better leader? Observe more and react less. Not every piece of content can or should be completely based on the views of senior executives, but pretty much every piece would be both more appealing and more insightful if it included this valuable perspective.

  2. People are looking for help in navigating the sea of advice that is out there already. Number four on the list, Getting beyond the BS of leadership literature, offers “a better reading list for leaders.” And What CEOs are reading, discussed above, is also helping readers figure out what content to put to the top of their list, rather than adding to that list. You too can add value by making sense of what others are saying and helping your audience make the most of their valuable time.

  3. It’s not surprising but it is reassuring to see that executives are looking for guidance on the hot topics many firms have been writing about in 2016: China is at number three (What might happen in China in 2016?), digital strategy at five (The economic essentials of digital strategy), disruption in the auto industry at six (Disruptive trends that will transform the auto industry), blockchain at seven (How blockchains could change the world), automation at eight (Where machines could replace humans—and where they can’t (yet)), and customer experience at nine (The CEO guide to customer experience). The lesson here is that if you think it is a hot topic, it’s most likely that your competitors, including McKinsey, realise it is too. And if you don’t have the McKinsey brand, it’s even more important that when writing about hot topics, you deliver fresh insights and present content in an easy-to-access and engaging style.

  4. Executives are bothered about things that aren’t hot topics. Some issues are an ongoing challenge for your audience and they are keen to find fresh sources of help. Four out of ten items on McKinsey’s list could have been popular in 2006 or even 1996. Perpetual challenges—such as leadership and getting the most from people—continue to challenge your target audience and should not be overlooked.

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