I have to be honest, I’m not sure what to think of the “online list” craze. But I have to admit that people sure do love them. Every website is full of lists. They’re everywhere… and they make us want to click to find out what’s number one.
While these lists can be fun and easy to consume, keep in mind they my not be as useful as they seem at first glance. In a world where you can “google” anything don’t fall into the trap of thinking information is knowledge. Lists can be useful, but they can also give you a false sense that you are learning more than you really are. They are the cliff’s notes of learning, so treat them with care.
In my business, business training and coaching, these lists are particularly popular. It seems like every magazine, blog or social media site is full of articles that include numbers. Not just research numbers or financial numbers… list numbers. Expert’s top 10 this, and 6 hot ways to do that. You can find lists to tell you about how to find a job, what to say in an interview, how to close a sale, or the tips for networking.
I assume you’re going to continue to click on the lists… frankly, so am I. So to help you out I’ve compiled my own Top 5 List. Here are some things to keep in mind as you consume those enticing lists. While you’re clicking through them think about how you might really use the information they provide you. Again, lists are not good or bad. Just be thoughtful about what you’re truly getting.
- Lists are going to be pretty basic. They are lists, not chapters. Let’s face it you can only say so much in a 600 to 1000 word article anyway. As writers we are taught to use bullet points to draw your eye down the page. That’s a big purpose of those lists. It makes an article faster and easier to read. As attention spans dwindle it’s a way to keep you, the reader, engaged so you don’t click off the page. It also means you won’t be given anything too in depth. Bullet points are by nature short and sweet. So they will also only deliver the basic information about a subject. There isn’t time to do much more.
- The list may not really help you unless you already know something about the topic. I first noticed this when I was researching my “Network with Ease” course. There are many lists that give you pointers on how to network. But I found that it was a bit like learning to ride a bike. When someone is on the bike for the first time if you tell them to “balance”, “pedal faster to stay up” or “lean to turn” they may yell at you in a panic. Those tips are meaningless to them at that point. They sound like gibberish. However, once they get a feel for the bike and actually experience some of those things, like balancing, your suggestions will start to make sense. They need to know something about riding before your instructions for riding really make sense. Online lists can be similar.
- Lists can help get you started but rarely fill in the details. This follows #2. Lists may tell you “what” you need to do, but that is only half the story. You also need to know “how” to do those things for the list to have any true meaning. It’s the bike riding thing again. It I tell you that you shouldn’t just talk to people you already know when you network, but you are totally anxious about introducing yourself to strangers is that tip really helpful? Sure, you now know you need to do it… but without the “how” you’re still stuck feeling anxious. Without the how, the what is only marginally helpful. It can actually be discouraging.
- Anyone can come up with a list by googling any topic. Full disclosure: I’ve used this one myself (and probably will again). Now, in my defense I only do that to find examples or quotes about a topic I’m writing about. But that’s not the case for everyone. It’s easy to grab a couple of info-bites online and throw a post together around them when you’re on a deadline. I see this happen all the time. People reuse each others information all over the Internet. I know, it’s not always a bad thing. Just please keep in mind that if you’re looking for in depth information you’re probably going to have to read more than a glorified David Letterman Top 10 List. Having the headline is not going to help you discuss the story in depth with someone. So watch out thinking you’re an expert on what’s going on after you read a list. Check the source for this particular list before you pull out the information to a client or your boss.
- Usually lists are a way to get you to keep reading. Lists and bullet points are designed to keep you on a page so you see the click through ads on a page. It’s what allows a sites advertisers to have viewers… it’s about eyeballs. This is just the way of the Internet. I use it, HuffPo uses it, as do all the leading news and entertainment t sites. I’m not saying you can’t get some interesting and useful information in a “List Post” (hopefully this post is an example). If you’re looking for tidbits to use in a conversation then have at it. Be careful relying on the information too much though. If you expect to get any depth of information you’ll need to move beyond that top 7 list. People who really know a subject can see through you if you try to pass off that list info as real experience or knowledge.
Please use those “listacles” responsibly in business conversation. Keep these tips in mind and you should get more out of your list surfing. And yes, I’m aware of the irony of saying this in a “5 things” list post. I didn’t say they don’t work. You’re here reading it aren’t you? If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. Why fight the rising tide. Maybe my next post should be “The 10 reasons I should write more 10 reasons posts”.
Feel free to connect with me directly at www.linkedin.com/in/ericbyrd.