5 Reasons I’ll Never Read Again

The broken promise of listicles

Mark Ovaska
3 min readJul 17, 2018

Ever notice the ubiquity of list-driven how-to articles? So-called listicles? I have and they’re wrong. Every last one of them.

When I was young and starting my first business John C. Maxwell rocked my world with his savvy wisdom. He and Steven Covey helped ignite this whole sub-lit firestorm with their odd-numbered “something or other” titles. They were wildly popular and I read every one. And they were helpful.

A few years later I was talking to a mentor of mine who casually mentioned that he’d thrown away his list books. Wait, what? Sacrilege! Why?

Because he explained, he’d had an epiphany: Life is too complex for a finite set of laws. Because at some point you have to start thinking about how to become a chef instead of a recipe follower. (My metaphor, not his.)

There is no cheat sheet for life. Oversimplified understanding will lead to oversimplified views. Easy rules applied to solve hard problems will always come up lacking?

Even worse, you’ll also be like everyone else. Because if you and everyone else love the same 5 ways to do something, standing out will be impossible. You’ll become that little bit more of a fanatic and follower and less a creator or thinker.

The people who lead the way do so by breaking rules not following them — whether they’ve read all the “5 ways” lists or not. And, besides, no list is gonna stick in your mind like hard-won concepts or ideas.

In the age of the shrinking attention span capturing readers by promising short and easy results makes sense. I get it. Medium even gives writers a real pretty stats dashboard that shows how many people read each article. They even break it down into “Read Ratio.” (The ratio of people who stick around and actually read the damn thing to those who bounce away.) This is helpful to a point but (as with most things online) it creates pressure to seek validation through higher numbers. I bet there are at least 5,000 reasons to put “5 Reasons” in a title. I haven’t tried it until this piece but I’ll let you know. Better yet, clap for me on the left or tweet this and let me know. (Clever, right?)

In the meantime, I’d like to call out these listicles for what they are: Shiny clickbait that won’t help you find “success” any more than a bowl of Froot Loops will help you grow strong.

How much better to develop a personal discipline of growth through learning? I’m not talking about memorizing lists or big words. I’m talking about forcing oneself to read challenging articles that elucidate complex principles. I mean, absorbing principles that will be invaluable across a wide range of situations for the rest of your life. How much better to become adroit at navigating abstract situations based on insights? God knows life’s challenges don’t arrive in an easy-to-digest list of 5.

Now I realize that not every article with a number in the title is worthless. Perhaps there are solid, complex, long-lasting principles packaged into some sort of quick-help list. But I doubt it.

Mark Ovaska is an entrepreneur and journalist with 20 years experience enjoying double entendres in article titles.

All Images © Copyright 2018, Mark Ovaska



Mark Ovaska

Serial entrepreneur and photojournalist. Husband, father, global citizen.