There are two kinds of people in the world: those who break the world into two kinds of people and those who don’t.
Yes, that’s a funny line. It’s funny because it’s ironic to be sure, but like many things, it’s also funny because it is so true.
It seems like there are a lot of people making lists these days. There is David Letterman’s Top 10 List on the Late Show, Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People (an entire industry, apparently), and an old friend of mine is brandishing his 23.5 ways to build teams. And in this time of political fervor right before the election, sticking people in one bucket or another seems obligatory if you want to win an election. There sure are a lot of people who feel a compelling need to compartmentalize.
Top 10 lists are the current rage in the blog world. There’s even a site that collects Top 10 lists, and one that attempts to list the worst Top 10 lists (a monumental challenge). It’s hard to poke around the net without hitting the Top 10 Marketing Mistakes, or Top 10 Ways to Get Hired, and on and on.
There are a lot of problems with these Top 10 lists. They generalize, stereotype, and play fast and loose with the facts. And of course, the world never seems to fall so easily into buckets of ten, and the lists are often strained. You see four or maybe six good points, and the rest of the list is padded with mush or duplicates just to make a list of ten. Or you see a list that’s really two dozen (or is it 23.5?) stuffed and shoehorned into ten, just to make the somehow magic number.
But, the main problem with all this list making and labeling is that it over simplifies. Life just isn’t that easy, neat, and tidy. There are a lot more mistakes than ten in marketing (just turn on the TV for an hour), and the top 10 list for one situation is rarely the same top 10 for someone else.
In fact, most of the biggest successes violate someone’s top 10 list. This is especially true in marketing, where “out of the box” is more than just a phrase, it’s a path to success. As soon as someone pens a rule that you should never do something, the next great success does precisely that.
So when I encounter one of these lists, it takes all the strength of character I can muster not to pick them to shreds. They must be remarkably easy to create since they proliferate like rabbits. My suggestion is that you ignore these silly lists, or if you must read them, that you call the creator to task for them. Tell them where they fall short, how they over-simplified, and how lazy it was to pass it off as meaningful thought in the first place. It may not stop this proliferation of these stupid lists, but it will certainly feel good.