Stop the press: four  things people in media need to know about lists
A view from Russell Davies

Stop the press: four things people in media need to know about lists

The list is a perfectly shaped content format for a media snacking world and it is excellent for writers too: you don't need a particular...

1. The New Yorker explains lists in its usual clever way (search The New Yorker for "10 paragraphs about lists you need in your life right now"). A choice excerpt: "In the not-too-distant future, all human interactions, written or otherwise, might well be conducted in the form of lists – for ease of assimilation, for catchiness, for optimal snap. I imagined myself, some decades from now, nervously perched on the papered leatherette of an examination bed, and my doctor directing her sad, humane eyes at me a moment before clearing her throat and saying: ‘Top five signs you probably have pancreatic cancer.’"

2. Perfect inspiration for manifestos and the like. The brand-affirming manifesto is a staple of big-time pitches these days. For endless inspiration, have a look at the website listsofnote.com – it is what it says, and contains some absolutely brilliant lists. Find, for instance, Thelonious Monk’s advice for musicians ("What you don’t play can be more important than what you do") or read Billy Wilder talking about screen-writing ("If you have a problem with the third act, the real problem is in the first act").

Matt Locke Tweeted: 'Never rely on a business model that can be disrupted by someone making a list'

3. Fill an idle minute or win a strategy pitch. Two lists on Wikipedia are your friends. For the clever, strategic twist in an insight plan, consider something from the "list of cognitive biases". One of my favourites is: "Reactance – the urge to do the opposite of what someone wants you to do out of a need to resist a perceived attempt to constrain your freedom of choice." Similarly useful is the "list of common misconceptions". There is no evidence, for instance, that Vikings wore horns on their helmets, bats are apparently not blind and "the black belt in martial arts does not necessarily indicate expert level or mastery".

4. A useful quote for commenting on media. Have you heard that Ministry of Sound is suing Spotify? People are building playlists on Spotify based on Ministry of Sound compilations – this, the company believes, is undermining its intellectual property. The media thinker Matt Locke reacted this way on Twitter: "Never rely on a business model that can be disrupted by someone making a list." Indeed.

Russell Davies is a creative director at Government Digital Service
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