10 Reasons to Avoid Writing Top 10 Lists

  1. Screen Shot 2013-04-29 at 1.53.55 PMBasically, enough already. We’re saturated with top 10 (or top 5) reasons to do something. I don’t know about you, but I’m inundated, and I hardly bother to look at them anymore, unless the headline is unavoidably compelling, which is rare.
  2. They’ve become the literary equivalent of fast food. Enticing at first but soon completely forgettable. Most are just repurposed aphorisms that have been around, in one form or another, for years. At least say something!
  3. I understand the need for shortcuts. I know that people have little time to read and digest information and are looking for a simple way “to get it.” But we can still write short and engrossing paragraphs with headlines and other devices to guide the reader and still convey more nuance and depth.
  4. People remember and respond more deeply to stories. Nothing is better for conveying ideas or key messages than through human-to-human experiences with a beginning, middle and end.
  5. We remember beautiful and powerfully written quotes more than lists. I bet you can recite a line from Shakespeare or Martin Luther King. But when was the last time you remembered, let alone recited, even half of a top-10 list?
  6. Many top-10 lists in business try to communicate “best practices” – describing the best techniques or methods used in a company, field or industry. But these “practices” are often just the latest or trendiest, and the best practices of one era can soon be replaced by fads of the next. Even one management change can do the trick. Did someone say, JC Penney?
  7. Bandwidth. Leverage. Actionable. Business model. Deliverables. Drivers. Ecosystems. Synergies. Best of breed. Granularity. Mission-critical. Critical path. Core competencies. Buy-in. Drill down. Going forward. Matrix. This is the kind of soul-stripping, management-speak often used in top-10 lists. “Only if you have the core competencies will you be able to action the deliverables.” Is this really helpful?
  8. So, if you just follow the wisdom of the list, you’ll find success, right? Come on! Really? Is anything that simple?
  9. Do we really need more lists? I can barely get through my to-do list. Oh yeah, pick up the dry cleaning.
  10. Hmmm. What now? Where’s David Letterman when I need him. Clearly, I need to drill-down on the centers of excellence and the c-suite to leverage best-of-breed thinking and level-set learnings going forward.

7 comments on “10 Reasons to Avoid Writing Top 10 Lists

  1. Good stuff, as always. But now I don’t know what to do with my upcoming blog entry titled “Ten Sales Approaches I Am Tired Of.”

    Good list. Keep ’em coming.

  2. I’m tempted to do a top 10 list citing the reasons I liked your article. But then I would be defying your advice. Besides, I have more than 10 reasons.

  3. Cogent points. We live in an age of jargonization, oversimplification, text-talk and societal ADD. I, for one, am waiting for the inevitable pendulum-swing back to engaging the brain!

  4. Marie Orsini Rosen on

    Don, this is so clever and useful. I’d love to put it on my FB page. If that is okay, how would I credit you other than a longstanding friend and colleague? Marie

  5. Piper Lyman on

    I agree…especially with #7 which I find is abused by people who have no idea what to say. “Hey, if we use a whole bunch of trendy made-up words we’ll sound smart and cool. ”

    I miss working with you and your intelligent, to the point writing! Keep the posts coming.


  6. Steve Hallmark on

    All of these list makers are just so ‘boomer,’ the generation (1943-1960) whose mantra was ‘follow the right principles’ to get ahead and who are now leaving the active work force behind to generations who look elsewhere for guidance. Their lasting legacy is the paralysis of politics in America today where politicians subordinate common sense and decency to making us all live by their idea of the right principles.The Boomer Era peaked in the 80’s & 90’s when bookstore Self-Help shelves nearly toppled over with the ‘7 Steps to Success,’ ‘The Five Key Ideas to Make a Difference’ and similar books of lists.If you really need a simple declarative sentence to figure out what to do you might want to consider these: ‘Intelligent behavior is not predictable because it is alway appropriate to the unique situation at hand’ or ‘All systems are either inconsistent or incomplete.’

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