Bulk Positive Randomness

People often stop mid-conversation and ask me, ‘How do you know that?’ I’m always surprised by the question. I usually brush it off with a variation on ‘I read a lot’ and ‘I spend a lot of time on the Internet’. But it’s not quite that simple.

I choose to embrace the concept of Bulk Positive Randomness. It’s something I encountered on Cal Newport’s Study Hacks blog, but he picked it up from Ben Casnocha. The idea is three-fold:

  1. Bulk: you need to expose yourself to a wide range of facts and ideas. Get out more. Read more. Soak up information, do things. Keep it broad. Be open to possibilities.
  2. Randomness: you never know where your next great idea is coming from. You might hear a phrase in a movie that hits you hard, or a line in a song that gives you insight. You might meet a person in an unexpected place who becomes a life-long friend, or hear an acquaintance utter an unexpectedly useful sentence. The key is not to doggedly hunt these ideas down, but to be ready to catch them when you do meet them. Again, the key is in being open to the chance that you’ll catch a glimpse of genius. Think of it as a ‘why not?’ factor.
  3. Positive: the experience is low-risk, and many things you pick up end up improving your life.

The above is my take on the phrase and the way I use it. It’s why I read so much, and browse the Internet, and look around when I’m walking. And I talk to people, and pay attention.

To expand on this, Ben Casnocha said, ‘Expose yourself to bulk, positive randomness and be ready to take advantage of it.’ Be prepared to capture the things you come across. Write it down, and follow up later.

I’ll leave you with some ideas for increasing your exposure to bulk positive randomness:

  • Read an obscure book;
  • Pick up a magazine you’d never normally look at, and read it cover to cover;
  • Watch a random TED talk;
  • Let Wikipedia links lead you to articles on topics you’ve never contemplated;
  • When you come across a news story on an unfamiliar topic, follow it up with a few minutes’ reading;
  • Sign up to a newsletter or ‘miscellaneous information’ site such as Lifehacker, and occasionally click through to articles outside your usual interests.
  • Talk to a friend or acquaintance about their hobby you’ve never been involved in, and really listen.
  • And finally, pay attention to things around you and notice them. The best randomness is found when you least expect it!

What will you do today?


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