10 Reasons Why Lists Are a Waste of Time

June 7, 2010 at 1:06 PM 2 comments

The habit of making lists has gotten out of hand. Half the bestsellers around are of the 10 things, 50 ways, 10 tips, and 5 rules variety. Now every other business blog entry seems to begin with a digit.

Distilling wisdom into concrete numbered rules can be worthwhile. But if you have to list 56 Reasons Why Most Corporate Innovation Initiatives Fail, are you really imparting knowledge, or just publishing the results of a catch-all bull session? How does this help us crack the nut?

Here’s the problem with lists, particularly big ones: they don’t help solve problems. Why? Because problem solving is a process of synthesis. When we start throwing too many ideas or facts against the wall – and invite others to throw more – we’re generating lots of unsynthesized list items, instead of solutions.

What kind of list works?. One whose items fit together. One whose elements are already synthesized.

Change and innovation happen with insight. When you just put numbers up there, you’re avoiding the heavy lifting – the synthesis that allows for insight.

If you have a list that’s of value, then by all means present it to the world. But please think twice before just throwing undigested ideas into a bin and numbering them. There’s too much noise out there now.

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2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Mitch Ditkoff  |  June 7, 2010 at 2:06 PM

    Well, Thomas, that’s certainly one way of looking at it and I applaud your very direct expression of what you think about all this list making business. That being said, I have a completely different experience of this than you do. There’s room for both or our approaches. Cracking the nut sometimes begin with tuning into what is really going on, framing new questions, becoming more attuned to what kind of static is in the system (or the mind). Lists are one way of serving this up to people. I am not offering the 56 Reasons list as a prescription for anything or a solution, either. I am offering it up to shine a bit of light on some dynamics that obstruct and obscure. I like what Fritz Perls had to say about the topic: “Awareness cures.” My work is about increasing awareness and then trust that committed, sentient beings will sort their way through whatever needs sorting and arrive at their own solutions or insights. And by the way, the list I posted is not the result of a ‘catch all bull session.’ I’m assuming you are using a kind of blogospheric shorthand to make a point, but your articulation of the roots of this list has absolutely nothing to do with a catch all bull session. It has to do with being involved with lots of organizations over time and witnessing the flora and fauna of what gets in the way — much of which can be kicked to the side or neutralized with just a bit more attention and focus

    All the Best!
    Mitch Ditkoff

  • 2. DALawson  |  June 13, 2010 at 1:36 PM

    Thanks to both of you for the interesting discussion.
    I think I lean towards Bill’s side of the debate based on the ‘Awareness Cures’ comment. And my reasoning is that as I read through that long list several observations resonated and as an innovator I was inspired to find resolutions.


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Thompson Morrison

Thompson Morrison

About Thompson

As CEO of FUSE Insight, Thompson Morrison uses powerful new web interviewing technologies to help businesses better align their brand with the needs and aspirations of their customers. Learn more at www.fuseinsight.com


"The single most significant strategic strength that an organization can have is not a good strategic plan, but a commitment to strategic listening on the part of every member of the organization." -- Tom Peters



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