I love randomness. It’s an essential part of how I live and work.
Today’s example of randomness is the book event for Do More Faster that David Cohen and I are doing at the Barnes & Nobel in Boulder at 4 pm today. It’s open to anyone and we have no idea who is coming or what the actual agenda will be, but we know that even if it’s just the two of us sitting at a B&N together, we’ll have fun and learn something.
My goal with randomness is to always be learning. Sometimes I have structured randomness, like the Random Days that I used to do all the time and now occasionally do. Other times it’s just a random event (like the one this afternoon), a random visit to a company/organization (like something I’ve decided to do on Saturday afternoon), or a random new thing to play around with.
One of my favorite Neal Stephenson anti-heroes is Raven from Snow Crash. Raven has the phrase “Poor Impulse Control” tattooed on his forehead as a punishment for some crime in his past. I’ve always loved this phrase, but use it in a positive way around randomness.
There are endless examples in the 53 years of my life in the power of randomness. When I’m asked about how we ended up in Boulder, I answer “it was random – we wanted to try it out and see if we liked it so we just moved here from Boston.” We knew that if we didn’t like Boulder, we could try someplace else. Another example is my Goodreads My Books Read list, which is a little less random than the infinite pile of books that I’ve actually bought and are sitting on my Kindle to read. My email is another example – the number of interesting things that have come out of a reply to a person I don’t know who cold emailed me is remarkable to me when I reflect on it.
There is an endless structure that is imposed on my life, either by me or others. All you have to do to see it is look at my calendar. So, in addition to the Joy Of Missing Out, I encourage you to embrace some randomness in your life.
And yes, I am very aware of Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s thoughts, anecdotes, and warnings about randomness. Rather than being confused that luck is skill, I prefer to allow luck to just show up while I’m learning and exploring lots of different things.
Amy and I had a wonderful week off the grid in Paris. No phone, no email from Friday night 5/8 when I boarded the British Airlines flight in DIA until Friday morning 5/15 when we decided to turn stuff on and just lay around the hotel all day getting reading to go home.
I’m always fascinated by the email patterns I have when I’m off the grid for a week. I almost always go off the grid late Friday or Saturday morning so there’s the weekend lull followed by an intense flurry on Monday. By Tuesday my regular emailers have seen that I’m off the grid and their pattern of copying me slows down, but doesn’t stop completely. The emails then become more random.
By Wednesday, I’m getting three kinds of email.
- #Important: Important stuff from people I know that I’m being copied on.
- #New-Known: Stuff from people I know who didn’t email me earlier in the week.
- #Random: Stuff from people I don’t know.
#Important and #New-Known tend to have similar tones. They are things for me to respond to, send to someone, make a decision around, or acknowledge receipt of information. Occasionally they require me to do something, but the action requested rarely takes more than five minutes.
#Random is completely different. Almost 100% of the #Random email has a specific request for me. These requests are often for meetings, phone calls, interviews, or speaking engagements. Some of them are specific sets of questions about a topic while others are long essays that never really get to the punch line, but clearly are begging to get to a question of some sort. Some are requests for introductions. And others are direct asks for financing.
This trip, when I went through my email upon my return, I left all the #Random ones for last to process. I had over 200 of these. This time I responded to all of them, but it wasn’t very satisfying. It took about four hours on Sunday and when I was done, I felt relief to be done, but when I reflected on it, I didn’t feel like I ended up with any new knowledge. That was disappointing as processing four hours of email to result in zero learning mostly just sucks, at least for me.
In this case, I packetized appropriately. Rather than getting bogged down in the stuff I needed to do while getting worn out by stuff that wasn’t that important to do, I only responded to stuff in #Important and #New-Known, ignoring the rest until I was completely finished with these categories. I think took a break and dealt with the rest later when my headspace was clearer.
As I sit here, I wonder why I responded to the other 200 #Random emails. I have a long-standing self-identity of responding to all emails that I get. For some reason, that’s important to me, but I’m no longer really sure why. It’s not satisfying in any way and the signal to noise ratio, or at least the value to non-value ratio, is way out of control at this point.
I guess I have something new to ponder in therapy. At least something good came out of responding to the 200 emails.