Saturday, November 23, 2013

Tip: Create a Your Own Randomizer

Whoever you are, whatever you do, if you’re serious about it, then you need a RANDOMIZER, some routine that regularly bumps you into unexpected stuff.

In the days before the internet, for example, I would go into bookstores and just look around. I’d browse through the new books to see if there was anything interesting. Of course, at any given time I’ve got my current projects. Anything relevant to a current project would be interesting. But other things might just jump out at me and proclaim, “I too am interesting.” So I’d take a look.

The point is that I don’t plan what’s on the new books shelves. Someone else does that. I just browse them. Same with the magazine racks. In particular, I’d look through the contents of business magazines like Fortune, Forbes, and Business Weekly (does it still exist?). And, often enough, I buy an issue.

I still do that, but not so much as before. For one thing, there aren’t so many bookstores around. For another, I’m not buying so many books.

So I’ve developed ways to get surprised on the web. I’m on an evolutionary psychology list, for example, that sends 10s of links to current literature everyday. Most are of little or no interest, but a few are, and some among those come as surprises. 

Same with Tyler Cowen’s Marginal Revolution blog. Tyler posts lots of stuff, much of relatively little interest, but always unexpected things show up. Then there's Crooked Timber, a group blog devoted to politics, economics, and philosophy. CT doesn’t post nearly as much stuff as MR, but the fewer articles are longer and more substantive in themselves. Lots of folks comment, and surprises do show up. Heck, even the grand old New York Times coughs up surprises now at then. Not to mention my Facebook friends.

And so on though a list of a dozen or so sites that I visit daily and perhaps another dozen I look at every once in awhile.

There are ways. If you want to be surprised, you’ll figure out how to let it happen, it’s that simple. The somewhat popular idea that the internet makes it easier for people to insulate themselves in a world of their own narrow choosing is nonsense. THAT’s always been easy to do. And it’s ALWAYS been just as easy to be open to surprise. The choice is yours.

And it’s always been yours.

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