Being in software product development, I've long been of the opinion that we should be equipped to deal with randomness. Software development is complex. The world is complex. Life is complex. Random things happen and we have to deal with them. We can't predict everything and we shouldn't think we can. Things tend to spiral out of control (especially in product development, but in many other aspects of life) when we think can plan out every detail and run things as if no variable will ever surprise us.
Good luck with that.
This idea applies to everything though. Randomness is everywhere. Complexity is everywhere. It is easy to take for granted or forget. But I've been finding it more and more important to not only accept randomness, but to actively seek it for myself and my teams/products/endeavors to make them better.
This should come as no surprise, but we are individually complex systems. Everything about us is complex, from our bodies to our hormones to our biology to how it all interacts. Modern medicine barely scrapes the surface of how it all interacts. If you've ever had anything seriously wrong with you or a loved one, you've likely realized how quickly we reach the edge of understanding. It is scary.
So with that, we should be very judicious about adding unproved complexity to our complex systems (medicines with little benefit but potential hidden risks are good examples). But we should also be readily using time-tested randomness. Many religions and diets have randomness in the form of fasting, either intermittently or sporadically. The benefits have been time-tested. And the randomness is meant to help push our bodies, to make us stronger.
We're built to adapt and become stronger in this way. If we don't vary our workouts, we won't build muscle. So
adding randomness or variability is a key to pushing our physical ability. The same idea is true for mental abilities. Learning takes place over time by varying the tasks and context. You can pass a test by cramming, but that's not how long-term learning happens.
Planning for Randomness
While it may seem like an oxymoron to plan for randomness, this is a key to preparation. Many of us do it in some areas of our lives. It is why we buy insurance. We can't predict certain situations, so we buy insurance to prevent big losses from random events. Hopefully we also are saving money as another way of preparing for random events.
On a little less dire note, planning for randomness also allows for some of the happiest times. Think about the best vacations you've had. Were they planned out to the last detail? Or was there some room in there for some random events or chance happenings? While planning out what you will do is important, leaving room for fun to happen will be where memories are made. The random stop on the side of the road. Or the detour to see the historical site that wasn't on the itinerary. Picking the restaurant that feels like the right option in the moment.
Professionally you could look at this as contingency planning. How might your meeting go wrong? What might take things in the wrong direction? How could the upcoming budgeting season get derailed? On the flip side, what unexpected opportunities might arise? As a product manager, I'm always looking for these types of opportunities, especially with the software we're producing. How are customers using our software in ways we weren't expecting? How can we capitalize on that?
Going beyond planning for randomness, injecting randomness into our lives is the next step to building our strength. It's not just about preparing and planning for randomness, it's about finding areas where we can add some randomness to help ourselves.
We already talked about it with working out. Lifting weights is an ideal example. If I lift the same weight every day, I can get great at it. It will get easy. But I won't build any muscle that way. I need to inject some randomness. In the way I lift (not using a machine). In the actual weight (increasing it).
We can say the same for diet. I've found some good foods that I've grown accustomed to. But as I've been thinking and reading, I've realized that I need to inject more randomness into my diet. Eggs every morning have been great, but I need to inject some randomness into my diet. Part of that is different foods. Part of it is skipping breakfast altogether.
I've also found the same principle holds true for work and teams. Approaching problems in a new way, trying out a new method, changing up the routine can all inject some randomness that may make things more tumultuous in the short-term, but will add long-term benefits by challenging our assumptions and forcing us to grow.
When we boil it down, the point is to continue to grow. We want to grow personally, and allowing for randomness is part of that. Embracing randomness is even better. When we allow for it on our teams, in our businesses and ultimately in our society, we become far stronger than if we tried to plan every detail or manage every interaction.
Best of the Rest
Favorite Books from the Month
It was another lighter month for reading, but a really good one. I finished the Incerto series that I started last month, and highly recommend it. More to come on that soon.
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