This “recommendation” will bring you joy!

I am happy. Vanessa Mae’s glorious interpretation of “Classical Gas” is playing in the background — courtesy Apple Music. After a long time, I am hearing a song on loop.

So far, so good. It then strikes me — I had neither searched for Vanessa Mae nor for this particular song — indeed I didn’t even know that such a song even existed! How then had I stumbled onto it?

The answer is staring me in the face. Apple Music is the catalyst. Over time, it has meticulously tracked what I listen to and when, has learnt what I enjoy — perhaps even deduced my preferences by the ‘hour of the day’ and ‘day of week’ (play happy songs on friday!) — and has recommended a list that it thought I might like. And it has succeeded brilliantly — the algorithm’s choice had certainly put a smile on my face!

Now, lets explore this a little deeper. My library has manyCDs and playlists I had listened to a hundred times — how was it that this random song from a random playlist was giving me so much more joy?

I guess the answer is in the “surprise” element”. I had stumbled upon a “recommended” song I enjoyed and this had caught me by surprise. A very pleasant surprise. And pleasant surprises always deliver joy.

But isn’t this what happens when we listen to the radio? Don’t we keep getting these surprises?

Indeed we do — however, in the case of recommended playlists — there are two unique differences over the radio:

a. The probability of positive surprises are higher here than on the radio since the recommendations factor in my preferences. The radio is also likely to deliver more “negative surprises” (songs I am not likely to like as much)

b. The playlist comes with limited downside — I can simply click a button and move onto the next song if a song doesn’t interest me. With the radio, I will need to wait it out. Of course the latter has an upside too — it will help me build more patience!

This element of “positive surprises” with “limited downside” is what makes these new recommendations so cool. Subscription models (where you don’t pay for a song — so no risk of buying a song you end up not enjoying) and “samples” (think trying out an audio book for a few seconds on Audible or a few pages on Kindle before the purchase) limit downside and hence are more popular than the “buy and try” approach.

But here’s the thing — you don’t need an Apple or Amazon to induce these micro-moments and minutes of positive surprises.You can setup a system for yourself which will do the same. Here are a few ideas:

a. Set 5 minutes everyday for catching up with a random friend (close your eyes and pick a name from your contact list). The fact that it comes from a list of “friends”, ensures that it will be positive — the “random picking” will bring in the excitement.

b. Invite a few colleagues to car-pool (the random part here is you don’t know who will accept on a given day!) — and maybe evolve a “random” topic to talk over for the ride too!

c. Try a new route every thursday (hopefully you’ll find a scenic, low-traffic one which will get you up all buoyed up to meet your weekend!)

d. Join a library — serendipity works overtime in these areas — the right book is more likely to fall into your hands here — given that you will dwelve into a favourite section and the vast inventory of books (as opposed to the local bookshop where the inventory is more likely to be limited to only “what sells more”!).

I’ll leave you with this thought and a recommendation to explore this idea of setting yourself up for more “mini-surprises of the positive kind” today. Would love to hear your thoughts (and a like/ share will be awesome too) — and your experiences should you decide to try some of these out…

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