Top 5 Reasons we do Top 5 Reason Lists

My last post, 5 Reasons to go to Dreamforce (that you shouldn’t tell your managers about), followed a very common format – a list of ranked items – a highlights list. Ever since David Letterman invented the top 10 list, the format has spread like wildfire, and it started me wondering – why is it so popular?

In school we were taught that the best way to communicate was through well thought out, finely crafted essays. You start with a theme and introduction, then a body that makes your points, then a conclusion. Or, as we would put it informally: “Tell them what you’re going to tell them, tell it to them, then tell them what you told them.”

Essays were intended to be informative and thought provoking. You can hold a conversation over a great essay beyond just tweeting the link to a friend for quick laugh. They were worth the investment in time spent reading them.

Top ranked lists are highlights, fragments of thought that seem meaningful, but pull away just as you begin to engage with them. They offer the illusion that you learned something, but without flow or context are just ideas cast adrift, that quickly vanish as if a mirage.

But in a way, this is their advantage. In our media and information rich world, we don’t have time to think. An essay is too much work – it demands consideration and, horror of horrors, contemplation long after you’ve read it, as its content is gradually absorbed and becomes a part of who you are. Highlight lists are sugar snacks – a quick buzz and you’re on to your next task, no richer and perhaps a bit less healthier for the treat.

We offer highlight lists because they get attention where serious essays are lost in the noise. We have no choice in the matter, even though we know that in doing so we too contribute to the cacophony. It’s not enough to write an essay and expect it to stand on its own – you have to market it, to sell it, to hide it under the label of whitepaper, or if you’re particularly devious, in the guise of a fake top 5 list such as this one 🙂

Dan Appleman

About Dan Appleman

As Full Circle Insights’ CTO, Dan Appleman brings a broad technology experience to our customers. In addition to having supported over 30 implementations with technology solutions, Dan is also the author of the book "Advanced Apex Programming for and" and has been a speaker at Dreamforce since 2012. Previously, he was the founder of Desaware, Inc. a developer of add-on products for Microsoft Visual Studio, a co-founder of Apress publishing, and the author of numerous books and articles.