Top 3 Reasons Not to Follow Top Lists

They’re all the rage.  In our sound-byte addicted media culture, we’re all looking for the silver bullet–make that the top 10 silver bullets.  Regardless of the subject matter, we want someone else to ruminate on a topic, research it, then condense it to the top xx number of key points. 

One of the reasons I attended the University of Chicago for my MBA was because of the school’s philosophy, called the “Chicago Approach.”  This philosophy is based on the idea that “the modern (business) executive achieves success largely in terms of (her/) his ability to analyze and solve business problems.”  The reasoning was that executives should be resourceful, independent and take the initiative–not necessarily take the short-cut or accept all recommendations as reliable fact.  

I’ve found this approach valuable post-graduation, especially in my marketing consulting business.  Often, the top executive tells me her/his top business problems in a Top List format.  Later, it turns out that the real issues were really very different than “The List,” which became conventional wisdom after it was presented to the CEO on a PowerPoint slide.  Usually, it takes further hypothesizing and analysis to get at the real, underlying problems.

Since David Letterman started his top-10 lists and media stardom followed those who could give good sound bytes, we all want the short answer, the executive summary, the twitter-shrunk version.  I’m part of the craze, too, as I suspect most of you are. 

So why should you shun Top Lists?  Here are a few things to consider, presented, of course, in a Top 3 List!

1. Did someone really research and vet the list?  If so, do you trust, or give credibility to the list-makers?  It’s easy to throw out tips off the top of your head, but did any research or real cogitation go into the process?  If not, then accepting a list of recommendations that’s an excuse for real thinking  just continues the lazy streak begun by the copywriter who needed content to publish–fast.

2. What’s the criteria for these winners floating to the top of pool?  In researching Top Lists, I found a website that offers Top 10 Lists of very factual information: Coldest City in the US (Fargo, ND) as well as some very dubious subjective criteria.  Don’t you want to know what scales were used to determine the Most Polite City in the World (New York City), the Most Stressful City in the US (Hartford, CN) or the Happiest Country in the World (Nigeria)???

3.  Is a formula the solution to your problem?  Most subjective Top Lists may be great trivia, but aren’t really pertinent to my problems.  They may prompt an idea, but eventually I need to think, research and test my own hypotheses before I put them in concise, easy formulas.   How about you?  Have you ever agreed 100% with Letterman’s Top 10 lists, or lists you read in Cosmo or Outside magazine or even agree with your top executive’s short list of what’s wrong with your department? 

Bottom line, use Top Lists to spark ideas, then create your own lists. 

Now that I’ve put doubt in your mind that you should use Top Lists, I’m going to take the counter argument next week and tell you why you might want to follow Top Lists!  Stay tuned…

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