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By: Jon Lavietes, Senior Associate

By and large, editors and journalists love lists. You don’t have to look far to see staff-written and contributed articles touting “Three Reasons Why…,” “Five Things That Will…” or “The Top 10 of [insert category name],” especially if you’re perusing Inc. With the requisite compelling-enough content and timely hook, these lists are simple, catchy and perfect for a post-modern media landscape that, for better or worse, places a high priority on volume of content and click throughs. In fact, we, too, have been known to generate value for our clients through opinion pieces of this sort.


But while these pieces can serve as fun, concise vehicles for encapsulating a trend or delivering advice, they can also be limiting when utilized incorrectly or just plain lazily. To honor this genus of journalism, here are three of the common shortcomings to lists of this nature:


  1. They are usually incomplete

Too often, the subjects of these pieces can’t truly be delineated 10 items or less. For instance, there are probably far more than eight simple-but-telling words used by exceptional leaders each day, 11 industries being disrupted by AI and three key things that go into building world-class teams.

It is one thing to concentrate on the best, hottest, biggest or most important of something. And in some cases, there really is a finite number of points to be made—if the founders of Zumba say that there are three principals driving their success, then it is safe to assume there only three. However, a more appropriate headline might be “Top Things the Author Can Think of at This Moment.”


  1. The conversation is grossly oversimplified

It’s not just the breath of the conversation that is often too shallow, but it’s the depth, too. The bet here is that the high-level business executives that read and contribute these pieces would tell us that few of their most complex business challenges are solved with a grocery-type checklist.  For example, every one of these 10 marketing tips could be the subject of their own in-depth how-to article—or academic textbook. The same holds true even if you try narrowing the focus to marketing to millennials—we know social media networks and influencer marketing are critical, but businesses are looking for more information on how to go about these tasks.

In fact, when you are done reading this article, you might think of a few things we might have overlooked.


  1. The lessons often don’t really apply

True, we can probably learn a lot from Lebron James, but the lessons outlined in this article aren’t among them. It’s not that marketability, adaptability, tenacity, collaboration, consistency and the rest aren’t important tenets of success, it’s just that you’re really not going to apply them to your day-to-day affairs in an even remotely similar way Lebron applied them to his. Let’s just politely say that your most distinguishing skills are pretty dissimilar to Lebron’s athleticism, and you are likely working in a much different landscape—your industry probably hasn’t been the leisure-time focus of hundreds of millions of people of all ages all over the world for several decades. Besides, we knew well before Lebron James entered the NBA that otherworldly success is impossible without the characteristics listed in the article in question.


Of course, this doesn’t mean there’s no value in these lists. When done right, they can succinctly summarize a trend, concept or a person’s story. Surely, we will continue to pitch and place them on behalf of our clients.

But there’s always room for improvement in conceiving and placing articles of this kind. Fortunately, there’s a tip list that can help with that.