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This is a trick title.  I loathe titles like this.  I am utterly sick to my soul of titles like this.  Not least because I am frequently sucked into them.  Mea culpa, mes amis.

Cosmopolitan-April-2011-olivia-wilde-19604816-1859-2560It is increasingly alarming to me how rampant this titular numeric bullet pointing has become.  There is an innate superficiality and cynicism that undergirds what increasingly looks like settled strategy in the “serious” business press, particularly online.  These numerated titles are kind of like the business form of Cosmopolitan Magazine‘s versions on “21 Ways to Please Your Man in Bed.”   (I swear Cosmopolitan, and its sister publications, print the same article every month with a new title.)

These are difficult times for the media and publications.  They are in business to make money, just like you and me.  The more eyeballs they draw, the more money they make.  I understand that.  Publishers and editors feel simplification creates more traffic, more clicks, more revenue.  And they, like entrepreneurs, are capitalists.  Yet does this mean that there must be a lemming-like stampede into a condescending oversimplification and a lowest common denominator of ersatz business insight?  Obviously, I would hope not, but one result of this increasingly omnipresent bulletting format is precisely this. I see it ubiquitously online in Forbes, in Inc. Magazine, and even in Harvard Business Review.

(Ironically, I am tempted to take this column right into that bullet point format at this very moment to keep this essay short and pithy.  As I said above, mea culpa!)

Mcdonalds-90s-logo.svgOne of the problems for publishers and readers is that we are all just so damn busy.  Like Sergeant Joe Friday in the old TV series Dragnet, we want “Just the facts, Ma’am.”  We have no time any more to seek out nuance, subtlety, and spiritual synchronicity.  We live in a confusingly fast world and a world that is getting faster.  Hell, many entrepreneurs have companies that create ways to cope with this onslaught and help our clients manage and keep up with the phenomenon.

The pull of bullet point oversimplification is that we think we can get knowledge and wisdom quickly with minimal effort.  This is magical thinking.  It is ultimately delusive.  It is spiritual and intellectual laziness.  It is a quick-fix idol and a chimerical substitute for truth.  It is a business form of seeking a cheap grace.  It’s like going to McDonald’s for nutrition.  Bullet formatting is becoming the fast food of online business writing.  Surely we must make room to include a little kale with our fries.

A lot of the problem is our devotion to speed.  We want the perfect answer now, wrapped up in a light blue Tiffany box and a red ribbon.  We want to have insta-presto answers rather than to think.

Olivier-as-Hamlet-laurence-olivier-5110416-600-450When I was in high school my English class was assigned to read Hamlet.  I was lazy and I cheated.  I read the Cliffs Notes of Hamlet.  Same thing, right?  But did I know Hamlet?  Not at all.

So the next time you see some variation on “10 Ways to Become Steve Jobs,” just skip it.  It won’t stick to your ribs.  Real learning and truth is more elusive, more complex: part fact, part poetry, part passion.
 
After all, Jobs himself said, “It’s in Apple’s DNA that technology alone is not enough.  Its technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields the results that make our hearts sing.” 
 
There is no silver bullet for wisdom—nor silver bullets, as it were.  There are no perfect solutions that can be summed up in 10 fast, easy steps.  There is only our longing that it be so.  Such promise of magic is seductive.  Like all people we want things quick, simple, and easy.  Bullet point oversimplification may be fast, but it is not profound.

Edward Fisher said, “If something is exceptionally well done it has embedded in its very existence the aim of lifting the common denominator rather than catering to it.”  Thanks, Edward.

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