The top 4 reasons I hate lists

Posted on Posted in 2017, Jay Mueller, Storytelling, Writing

Why lists will lead you astray

Content creation takes planning, time and effort. It takes space to practice creativity. The content you don’t create is often as important as the content you do.

The idea that ultimately becomes content is often built on the foundation of the ideas you left behind and abandoned along the way. How often have you had a thought for a video or a post and once you started turning it over in your mind, sketching it out, drafting it, you realise it’s not such a great idea? You pause, think about it a little longer and then move on. As you move on, you free yourself up to the next idea.

Here’s why I hate lists: there is no moving on.

The list is the laziest form of content. They are designed to provide time-poor, thought deprived individuals, an easy way to digest content.

I’m guilty of it. The NFL released its Top 100 players list over the last few months when nothing of significance was actually happening in the NFL. It was a simple piece of filler. A way to provoke debate. An opportunity to keep knuckleheads talking about the league.

I am one of those knuckleheads. I spent many minutes talking about the top 100 ('Can you believe Andrew Luck only made it on the list at 51?') on my US Sports podcast In the Pocket. Why? Because I’m no different than anyone else, I’m a sucker for a good list.


Click your own path

'Top 5 donuts in Melbourne.' Got me.

'Top 7 Wilco songs?' Tell me more.

'Top 3 things you can do right now to change your life?' I am ready to change my life.

So I click. And I realise I’m not going to eat those donuts, my favourite Wilco songs are different than those seven and my life is not going to change because of this list. Bummer.

So, it’s not hatred. It’s disappointment. Disappointment in myself, and in my profession.

Here’s my list of why lists are no good.

  1. Lists are arbitrary. I’m not talking about evidence based lists that share specific pieces of information about a topic, trend or location. For example, a list released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics that shows obesity rates across a specific metropolitan location has merit. The top 5, 6 or 7 that you recently read is largely made up. Our willingness to accept even the most arbitrary of lists leads people in positions of power to use the same tactics. 'Hey if they believe that really is the best donut shop in Melbourne, they’ll believe we’re actually doing everything we can to improve the city’s schools… Pass me another donut.'
  2. Lists are thieves. How often have you started with a list that promises to share with you the Top 8 beaches you need to visit before you die and you find yourself an hour later reading an article about the sea turtles that live off the coast of Madagascar. You ask yourself 'how did I get here?... My God what have I done?' You realise your inner dialogue is quoting Talking Heads, so you Google the band and, what do you know, a list of the Top 12 Talking Heads songs. On it goes.
  3. Lists are entertainment masquerading as information. Worse than that, they are marketing disguised as legitimate analysis. The lists of best this or most epic that rarely contain any form of analysis beyond this: how do we order this list to ensure the reader stays on the site/platform/account longer?
  4. Lists are generally useless. Unless the list makes you think, inspires you to take action or pushes you away from your screen of choice to go implement/research/explore an item on the list, that list is doing you no favours.


Moving on vesus staying put

Remember, lists don’t contain the move-on factor. They are the ultimate stay-put piece of content. When I see a list somewhere and I think, I would like to know the number one life hack to 10x my productivity, I pause, and I prepare myself to move on. How likely is it that this list I am about to click will deliver on its promise? Not likely. Knowing that, I can now skim the list to see if there is actually something there I can then explore deeper on my own terms and time frame.

This list appeared in my inbox this morning '20 Habits that will keep you fit for life.'  What are they? Hopefully one of them is to stop reading lists, because that would certainly free up some time.