Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Thoughtfulness and the Numbered List

Numbered list icon from
This week's post is kind of meta because, on one hand I decry the use of gimmicks like numbered lists, and on the other hand, I refer to a post that uses that gimmick. Don't worry about it, though - just go with the flow.

The Numbered List

I tend not to use them. I don't like them - they seem superficial to me. Now, after having read Amber Naslund's post over at Brass Tacks Thinking, I know why. It isn't the numbered list I'm against so much as it is that often the use of numbered lists disguise the fact that the info in the list isn't really all that useful. Then the list becomes a gag that served only to hook you into clicking on the link and viewing the page. Probably more often than should happen, you tweet or like the link because you don't realize you've been suckered. So then a few of your friends and followers get suckered, too. Although I click on these types of links more often than I want to, I try not to ask other people to look at them unless the info is really worthwhile. And lots of times, it isn't.

The Numbered List at Inc.

This numbered list (hate the title) caught my eye as I was reading another article at Inc., and the tease made me think it might be worthwhile. I got a couple of things out of it.

I liked Number 3 - I Have Never Paid My Dues. This probably doesn't apply to you, but it could. I worked with an Executive Director who thought he had paid his dues and wouldn't contribute any physical labor to any endeavor whatsoever whether it was as big as a fundraiser or as small as making a pot of coffee. I called it a victory when I could get him to replace his own lightbulbs. Needless to say, he was not popular with staff. Don't be him.

Numbers 7 and 8 gave me pause. The list is oriented towards businesses, but nonprofits are businesses, too, just in a different way. So, should you just roll up your sleeves and do whatever the customer asks of you? And do your customers always have the right to tell you what to do?

Although it's good not to think of yourself as being above doing some things, it makes sense to consider whether what you're doing or being asked to do matches the effort. Your brain, experience, and even physical body are used as tools in behalf of your small nonprofit. These tools have a value. And even if you don't consider your ego, you should still consider whether the customer/stakeholder/board/staff request is an effective use of those tools. Also consider whether the request might not lead to other, similar requests.

My late husband would work crazy hours and give up his weekends to meet last-minute Sales requests for packaging samples. He thought he was being a team player and it took him a while to understand that he was teaching Sales that he had no boundaries. Not good.

In other words, think of the long-term consequences, not just the short-term gains. Or losses.

Critical Thinking

We often go looking for wisdom on the web and we can be fooled into thinking we've found it in bite-size, easily-digestible pieces that we often don't remember after we've eaten them. But at bottom, isn't it that we're avoiding doing the critical thinking work we need to do?  Not just in evaluating whether or not the advice is truly useful, but in seeking out that source of wisdom in the first place?

Amber closed her Brass Tacks post by saying "Thoughtfulness takes time. Accept that."

I'll echo that. Accept the fact that there is no shortcut to doing the work. Then accept the fact that social communication is thoughtful work; it won't lead to a quick infusion of either donations or volunteers.You can get an application to make the labor less intensive, but it will only work if you know before you install it what it is that you need it to do, and what it is that it can do. But you have to do the work in learning what it is you need. And then you have to work at using and understanding the tools. There is no learning without understanding and understanding is essential to social communications.

By The Way

The Weekly Round-Up over at the Big Duck has some good stuff. Go check it out.


Nonprofit Websites said...

Annoying when the numbered list is simply used as a ploy to visit a website instead of genuinely providing useful information.

Robyn McIntyre said...

Nonprofit Websites -

Absolutely right. I'm thinking that perhaps these valueless numbered lists have been cobbled together to allow the blogger to be able to post SOMETHING. Maybe the drive to get new content up every day isn't always a good thing.