Mathematizable thinking is like soldiers building a frontier with razor wired walls. There is an enclosed world and a world outside. Here are ‘the 10 things that X people do’. That’s it. Ten.
Mathematizable thinking provides the comfort of the solidity provided by numbers. ‘Various reasons’ cannot compete with the assurance of ‘the three reasons why’. ‘A road to success’ cannot compete with ‘the 4 steps to’.
We have the 7 habits of successful people, the 8 steps to change management, the 10 things that X people will never do.
Litsmania is an obsession with lists. Media loves this: the top 10, the top 40… Order, ranking, lists, all this provides comfort and a sense of robust thinking, or argument, or research, or voting…
Bloggers are told (‘research shows’ style) that a title with an odd number will be read many times more than then one with an even one. 15 reasons to do X will draw many times more attention than the 12 reasons or say, 14 reasons. Pity Moses did not get 9 Commandments, perhaps they would have been more effective than the 10.
Then, after ‘mathematizable’, the issue is the magical number. 10 things are too many. 5 is much better. But if you want to remember, say 3. As in 3 bullet points. To prioritize, chose 3 as well. And if you want to push it, ask for ‘the one thing’
The ‘number of things’ is a powerful frame, used and misused. We need to be aware of how we use frames and understand that, when it comes to the agreement of how much is much, or many is many, it’s all pretty much cultural. Business culture is compelled to say that ‘10 of something’ is too much, ‘can we have just 3’? It seems that the collective memory is in need of an upgrade. Lengthy debates take place around ‘the right number of’, with no logic or critical thinking behind preferences.
‘If you were to give me just 1 thing…’ ‘But I was planning to give you 7’ ‘Give me 1’
The number upfront is a frame, a border, a reassurance of concrete reality, an invitation to grab it: a 5 point strategy, a 10 point truce plan. There is no logic for ‘the 3 things’ being better than , say, 6. But how we frame and mathematize is part of the art of communicating. I’ll finish here to have 9 paragraphs instead of 10. ‘Research shows’ that it will be read better.