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Disruptive Thinkers: Ben Casnocha Wants You To Stop Making So Many Damn Plans

January 18th, 2008 · 23 comments

Disruptive Thinkers is a semi-regular series that features interesting young people with interesting ideas about college, studying, or life in general.

The Randomness FactorBen Casnocha — Randomness

In early May, 2007, Ben Casnocha, a college student, entrepreneur, author, and all-around big thinker, posted a blog article titled: Expose yourself to bulk, positive randomness. The idea, which was later developed in more detail in his book, My Start-up Life, proposed a simple change: If you want interesting, grand things to happen in your life, stop trying to plan out every last detail. Instead, go out of your way to expose yourself to randomness. Lots of it. And then put in an effort to follow-up.

This pro-randomness philosophy runs counter to the cult of systematization that pervades much of the productivity blogosphere — which is why it intrigues me. So I asked Ben to walk us through the concept…

What is your randomness philosophy?

The philosophy is based on the difficulty of predicting which projects will ultimately be most successful. Sometimes it’s the random projects that turn out to be most important. To wit, we ought to “expose ourselves to randomness.” We should proactively generate opportunities that might seem random…but who knows?

“Randomness” includes, among other examples, conferences no one else is going to, obscure books, and the odd person you met who you’re not quite sure is interesting.

What are some examples from your own life where randomness paid off?

Some of the most interesting things that have happened to me — experiencing exotic situations abroad or getting my book published — have in part resulted from seeking out randomness. Without an overarching career goal in life, I can follow these various threads of randomness to their end. Once I was at a funeral, and met someone, and followed up, stayed in touch, and the person became one of my most important business mentors. This counts as randomness because I didn’t meet him at a business networking function. It was at a funeral.

What can a fellow college student do to live this philosophy?<

Take classes you might not otherwise take; go on that trip you’ve been putting off; make unusual choices; go to as many visiting speakers as possible. Try to build the most rich and diverse “input stream” as possible.

What are the pitfalls?

If you take a meeting with some random e-mailer, there’s a chance he turns out to be uninteresting and a dud [ed: or a serial killer]. There’s also a chance he could go on and be your future co-founder. So you need to apply some filter. The key is to use a different filter than everyone else to pick up on people and ideas that others might miss.

Of course every day can’t be an experiment in randomness. Every day shouldn’t be random meetings, random web surfing, and random walks through the park. Allocate certain time to pursuing unusual paths — but it shouldn’t be your whole day.

Let’s do the Michael Pollan thing: summarize your philosophy in seven words or less.

Be open to random opportunities. Who knows?

23 thoughts on “Disruptive Thinkers: Ben Casnocha Wants You To Stop Making So Many Damn Plans

  1. Zac Davis says:

    I laughed at the “or a serial killer”. I’m sure that there are other examples of where randomness can be bad, though. Such as stumbling upon something random which takes you away from your regular life for a bit, and you miss some deadlines or something.

  2. Study Hacks says:

    @Zac:

    True enough. But I think that’s Ben’s point. The key is not just randomness for randomness sake, but, instead, mastering the skill of develop a rich, novel “input stream.” This is probably harder than it seems.

  3. Amit C says:

    Hey Cal,

    Thanks for the excellent information

    I know it is not black and white, however this seems to run against your projects and finisher approach.

    Regards
    Amit

  4. Jess says:

    I love this post! I think randomness is essential, even for someone who is ruthlessly structured (like I normally am). I decided to step outside my box and take some different classes this semester, which will prove interesting and challenging in different ways.

    P.S. So far I’ve been using the Q/E/C format to take notes (or fix them, since it’s a lot harder to do on the fly, in class, than one would think) and it makes loads more sense than my old haphazard system I was using before. I hope to see some improvement in my recall abilities now.

  5. Arman says:

    Interesting approach. Can I paraphrase it as a different perspective on being adventurous and curious, although in a planned and systematic way?

  6. Study Hacks says:

    @Amit:

    It’s an interesting point. But here’s my take. Once you’ve decided to go after a particular project, it’s important to develop a completion addiction and look for systemization to make sure the works gets done.

    Where Ben’s advice comes into play, I think, is deciding what projects to go after. The warning here is to avoid the idea that you can just sit in a quiet room and plan out, in advance, all the projects to let enter your horizon.

    Is this convincing?

  7. Study Hacks says:

    @Jess:

    I’m glad Q/E/C is showing promise. Let me now how it holds up after your first exams using the method.

    Also, I agree about randomness helping to free you from structures. Left to my own devices, I tend toward comfort and structure, so I put a lot of effort into injecting more randomness into my day to day.

    @Arman:

    I think you’re right. This is modern version of age-old advice: “explore your world!”

  8. Rooo says:

    I’m not completely for the randomness camp or the systematic camp, but the funeral example doesn’t seem to prove anything really. Also, taking random classes can be nice and all, but most of us have the goal of graduating asap which leads to little opportunities to take random classes. I don’t know, maybe I don’t understand this well enough.

  9. Study Hacks says:

    @Roo:

    The question of balance here seems key. What’s your thoughts on finding that right balance between randomness and control?

  10. rparra says:

    I am reading Taleb’s seminal work on randomness (The Black Swan) and its importance especially when it comes to explaining tremendous impact on differing fields. Maybe as a cause of having those ideas already in my head that Casnocha’s ideas seem more correct – in fact Taleb’s arguments seem to buttress them … I am rambling again ….

  11. Earl Morrison says:

    I could call reading about this randomness topic an act of Randomness. I started off on Twitter an hour ago trying to help a halpless politician get a bit more clout in his run to save the world. Now I find myself on “CopyBlogger” jumping from one topic to another. At the age of 80, I now am about as random as they get. Just ask my wife!

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