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Cover image for Sunday Musings on Bibliomancy, Surrealists, and Using Random Chance in Community Management
erik martin
erik martin

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Sunday Musings on Bibliomancy, Surrealists, and Using Random Chance in Community Management

Go get a favorite book. The first one you’d grab if you had to leave suddenly. Light some candles and put on some music. Do it, it’ll be fun. Now balance the book it with the spine flat on a table and allow the pages to fan open. With your eyes closed, take a deep breath and ask aloud a question you have been grappling with. Move your hand over the book and allow your finger to land on the page. Open your eyes and read the passage out loud. Marinate on the words and let your subconscious find the answers to your burning question.

I first heard about this technique of non-religious Bibliomancy in Art History class when learning about the games and methods employed by Surrealist artists a hundred years ago. Something about that tactic clicked for me, and I’ve been interested in how to use randomness ever since. Those artists, along with many others before and after, have employed chance to unlock creativity. A way to escape the ruts and predictable traps of their own instincts. There’s a long history of using chance or randomness in art and design as a tool to leverage the unconscious mind. A way to trick their own minds into creating or noticing new patterns by injecting a controlled burst of chaos.

For about 10 years, I’ve tried to start each workday with a little random exploration. I have a bookmark folder with a bunch of random-generating links and spend at least 5 minutes surfing random videos, articles or images. For me, it’s an exciting to start the day and clear the mental cobwebs. If nothing else, it helps me start the day with a reminder of just how much I don’t know. In a few minutes, using some great and fun random tools out there, you get a glimpse of the vastness of the internet and humanity, etc. I feel like randomness also helps me be more aware of my own blind spots. Sort of like routinely pulling a “Crazy Ivan” to subvert my own tired thinking. Often these random links spark a new idea or leads down an interesting rabbit hole that somehow connects back to a work project.

Here’s a few of my favorite random link tools:

I’ve also tried to use randomness more deliberately at work. Especially working in Community Management chance can help make sure you notice members or parts of the community you might not actively choose to focus on. When I worked at reddit, I would spend 5 minutes a day hitting the random subreddit button until I found a subreddit I hadn’t seen before. I’d then message the mods to say hi. At WeWork, Depop, and Teal, I’d use a random number generator to select a random community member to look up and message each day. It’s a small thing, but I appreciated that this mechanism forced me to interact with members outside the confines of any explicit campaign or response or need. As community professionals, we naturally focus a high percentage of our time on the most engaged members. The ritual of messaging a random member per day helped ensure that I kept in mind the bulk of members who were infrequently engaged or dormant. Over time, those random messages add up and help me have a more nuanced view of the overall community health.

I was thrilled and thankful when Commsor added a “Random member audit” feature. This feature allows you to get notified via email about random Community Members based on a set cadence. Random audits are commonly used in regulated industries like healthcare, accounting, and law, but I believe they should be a key tool for Community Managers as well. To cultivate and grow healthy spaces for community members to interact together, we need to be aware of emerging patterns without becoming blinded by what we think we know. It helps to ground yourself with a dash of chance.

Do you use random audits or any other methods of chance in your work? Please share along with any bibliomancy passages in the comments!

Discussion (2)

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Nicholas Tolstoshev

I like this idea a lot and I've been intrigued with randomness ever since I read the book The Dice Man, where a guy comes up with the idea of making decisions in his life at the roll of a die.

Malcolm Gladwell's Revisionist History has several episodes around the benefits of randomness, for example as an alternative to student body elections. It's fascinating to see the outcomes of random selection: Gladwell makes the point that the skills to get elected are not the same as the skills to govern well, so there's a set of candidates with governing skills that would otherwise never stand a chance of becoming president.

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Nicholas Tolstoshev

Although my favorite application of randomness is this joke:
Whenever you are hiring for a position, take 10% of the resumes and throw them in the trash, because you don't want to hire unlucky people :)