Sure, there are some nifty, helpful basic rules of thumb, but success is not achieved simply by following a formula—if it were, everyone would be successful.
I have to admit I am a list maker. I find the process of enumerating all the tasks ahead of me somehow calming, especially during particularly frantic periods when there seems too little time to accomplish all that needs to get done. Having that list feels empowering and encouraging; I know exactly what's required and have the ability to reprioritize, augment and, most satisfying of all, delete items as circumstances change and I get things done.
Recently, as I prepared for a week away I wondered why I hadn’t drawn up my usual pre-vacation stuff-to-get-done laundry list of everything work and packing related I needed to accomplish before locking the door behind me and slipping into the proverbial gone fishin' state of mind. Here's what I realized: I'm sick and tired of lists!
I don't really mean my own lists, although clearly they have suffered; I mean all the lists tossed, chucked, spewed, spit, dumped, and otherwise flung at me through various media channels about one thing or another. How many Top 3, 5, 7, 10, 12, 15, 20 lists of the best/worst, highest/lowest, most/least effective, innovative, successful or whatever do you receive in a day, a week? The week before my week out-of-town 3 of 7 headlines in my LinkedIn Today stories bore list headlines, all of which started with 7, and a fourth included a list of "3 Reasons..." LinkedIn, if these are really tailored to me, take a memo, two is about my limit on a good day.
Everywhere I look someone wants to break things down for me with a list of insider tips, secrets or absolutely essential information that only a real expert could know. Ninety-nine percent of the time, these lists include very little that is new or that goes beyond basic 101 level insight. But, here's what I really find objectionable: Most things in business, or in life for that matter, cannot be broken down into a simple list. Sure, there are some nifty, helpful basic rules of thumb, but success is not achieved simply by following a formula—if it were, everyone would be successful. So, why are we constantly sold or marketed the idea that it is, that all we need to do is follow this simple recipe and wham-bam?
I've been suckered in by these headlines time after time, and while I may pick up a crumb of interesting information now and again, usually it's not a very good use of my time. What's worse, my own valuable list making has suffered in the process. So, why do I keep falling for it? The reason is these numbers and lists are psychologically appealing. Everyone likes the idea that if they follow a system, process or series of steps, presto change-o, they, too, will unlock the secrets of the universe.
I’m not saying there are absolutely no valuable articles that include lists, but for my money, this has just become a cheap device to attract eyeballs, rather than an honest attempt to provide value rich content that imparts knowledge and/or sparks discourse, and I, for one, am no longer going to suffer “listmania.”
So, I pledge to resist the call of these tempting “list articles,” and they are tempting; everyone will tell you these headlines are very clickable, but, like junk food, they’re mostly empty of substance. By extension, this means no more promoting list articles either; if they’re not worth my time, I’m certainly not going to retweet or share them with clients and followers.
If all the numbers that really don’t add value numb you, too, then join my boycott. If enough of us stop clicking, the Internet tides will turn.