The importance of randomness

Here are two random items that have drifted by my computer monitor during the past 24 hours.

Random item 1. I imagine Kathy Sierra there in her cool converted airstream office writing book after book. Fortunate for us, every once in a while, she takes time away from that work to share some brilliance on her blog. Like this post on the importance of serendipity.


“Unpredictability. That’s a good thing, mostly. An interface that does what you expect drops away so you can focus on whatever it is you’re using the product to do. While we assume that randomness plays a big role in games, we do our best to strip it from “serious” products and services. But there are plenty of ways to keep a user experience consistent while still supporting–even encouraging–the chance for serendipity. And serendipity is delightful, astonishing, sexy, rewarding, inspiring…”

In another context, I’ve spoken and written about one of the keys to the long-term success of a magazine is the ability of its editors and designers to manage the book with consistency and predictability, but to constantly surprise and delight readers with new ways to experience the magazine. One of the most predictable magazines I know, the New Yorker, surprises its readers constantly, but often in tiny, subtle ways that only a few keen observers may ever notice — the “hidden Mickey” approach*. (I’ve said that in other parts of our lives, the mixture of dependability and surprise is called “romance.'”)

Random item 2. Because my eclectic interests are the only glue bonding together the stuff appearing on this personal weblog, I enjoy some serendipitous results when I go off the topics of magazines and social media and do something like post a review of Michael Lewis’ great book, Blind Side. My review led to an e-mail from Russ Roberts, an economics professor at George Mason University who pointed me to his podcast,, and to the interview with Michael Lewis he posted yesterday on “The Hidden Economics of Baseball and Football.” Seeing that it was over an hour long, I thought there was no way I’d last through it, but still downloaded it to sample on my short drive home last night. Call me a geek, but I couldn’t turn it off. If you’re a fan of Michael Lewis’ ability to weave fascinating stories from sports you may not even follow, or if you have any interest in how value is often hidden within arcane statistics, you’ll find this interview riveting. I did. And you don’t have to be a baseball fan, football fan or fan of statistics to enjoy it (but if you hate all those topics, you may find it a wonderful sleep aid). Thanks Professor Roberts for letting me know about your great interview.

*To end this random post, I’d like to submit the following random thought: The next time a debate erupts among Wikipedians over whether or not to delete an entry of an individual who is pivotal in the development of some technology or philosophy or industry, I think the benchmark for comparison should be: If we have the bandwidth to devote 1,000 words to obscure Disneyland marketing gimmicks, don’t we have the bandwidth to devote to individuals who play pivotal (yet perhaps obscure) roles in the development of technologies, trends and movements?

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