In our blog-driven, online world, list-based articles are everywhere. Search for just about anything and you’ll come up with dozens of “X Reasons for Y” and “X Things to Incorporate Into Your Business.”
All of these lists are telling you some arbitrary number of ways to boost profits, to engage employees, increase productivity, whatever – but what makes them the “top” reasons? What scales are we measuring against? Who decided these were the best?
Sure, these lists are interesting, and provide all sorts of great starting points and ideas for positive change. They can even introduce new principles that the reader may never have thought of, but there are still a couple of massive shortcomings.
If these lists were effective, why does Gallup still report that 70% of US employees are “not engaged” or “actively disengaged” at work? There’s an obvious gap between information and its intended goals. So what are these lists missing? How about a list!?!
A list of a dozen weight loss tips isn’t going to going to get you to the gym or making healthier food, just like a list of ways to boost engagement isn’t going to walk you through the steps of rolling it out to your company. You’d be expected to find a different list for tips on getting into action!
This is pretty directly related to #1 – our culture demands that we boil things down into these easily digestible lists, and in doing so, we remove all the space necessary for detailed explanation, for useful information about turning tips into real practices.
Real life is way more complicated than any Top 5 list will ever lead you to believe. Those tips won’t work for everyone, and even if they did, the topics are so quickly glossed over that the takeaway is a snippet at best. Assuming that some predetermined, “best” list is going to solve our problems is both foolish and dangerous. It lulls us into thinking that dealing with people and solving problems is easy.
It most certainly is not.
Human beings, the businesses they run, the groups and habits they form, and all of the other things that these lists try to simplify are terribly complex, and that’s also the source of our greatness.
So what can we do?
Well, there certainly isn’t a simple answer (and if you were expecting one, that’s the damage that “list” articles are doing right there in front of you…), but maybe understanding that is the first place to start.
We’ve got to stop compartmentalizing and stripping down. We’ve got to embrace a little complexity and start looking at the dynamic relationships between multiple causes and effects. There’s no way that the “Top 10 Reasons” for one company are going to work for another, at least not exactly. Once we can start to realize that blanket solutions and easy fixes are nothing but pacifiers and pipe dreams, maybe we can actually get some work done.
Let’s stop breaking things into lists of their simplest parts, and instead challenge ourselves to understand the complexity.
Anil Saxena is the President of Cube 2.14, an organizational development consulting firm that works with clients to increase both customer and employee engagement while decreasing turnover, improving customer retention, and increasing profitability within organizations.
Saxena is a certified High Impact coach and trainer and a Joint Application Design facilitator. He is also certified by both Rush Systems and IBM as a focus group facilitator. He is an inaugural member of Northwestern University’s Learning and Organizational Change program, and he earned his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from the Illinois Institute of Technology.