Experiment 1: Address Book Lottery

rolodexI’m planning a series of experiments aimed at attempting new daily practices, learning new skills, and finishing uncompleted projects.

The first experiment of the year is simple: E-mail 50 randomly-selected people from my address book and see what happens.

Choosing an address book. I’ve been a professional for 18 years, and in that time I’ve worked a number of different jobs. I’ve done a good job transitioning my address book each time. More recently, though, my contact list has become fractured among Outlook, Gmail, social media apps, and my phone. For the sake of choosing something, I went with my Outlook Contacts – a list I started in 1999 and currently includes 1,181 people.

Selecting 50 people. The next step was identifying the random 50 people to email. For this task I used this random number generator: http://andrew.hedges.name/experiments/random/. A few interesting things came out of the randomized subset:

  • Three of my direct-reporting employees were part of the 50. To avoid “obligation to the boss” awkwardness, I removed them.
  • One selected contact was a name with no e-mail address, so I replaced it with the next contact on the list.
  • One was a deceased business contact. I remembered him fondly, and then added the next name.

The email. I chose my current business email address (instead of my personal Gmail) for this effort. First, that is how I met many of these people, and they may recognize it. Also, I think a corporate address is less likely to go straight to an automated spam folder.

At this stage I was nervous that this will come off as creepy or a sales call or both.

Hi,

I realize this email may seem a little weird.

As I begin 2017, instead of developing a year-long resolution, I’m trying a series of 2-week experiments. Some will be health-related (working out daily, eliminating sugar); others will be habits (meditating daily, reading fiction each night); and some just weird ideas (wear the same jeans for 2 weeks, learn the ukulele).

My first experiment is in the “weird idea” category: Contact a random subset of 50 people from my address book and track the results. I anticipate some emails will be undeliverable, recipients won’t remember me, and some will just choose not to respond. But I hope in some cases I’ll get to revisit old stories, revive a few connections, and maybe spark some interesting email discussion. (I also realize that, in some cases, we just talked last month or even yesterday – that’s part of the fun, too!)

Letting “the universe” or “God” or “mathematics” choose the initial recipients is part of the fun, and you have literally been randomly selected. If you’re up for it, I’d love to hear from you. Where are you living, what kind of activities are you enjoying, and – most importantly – what are you passionate about in 2017?

Thanks for considering, and I hope you have an amazing year!

Brian

At 6pm on January 3, 2017, I sent the email to the 50 randomly-selected contacts. And then I waited. Will anyone respond? Will some think I’m a moron? Was this a bad idea?

The numbers

  • 15 bounced back immediately as undeliverable. 30% of my randomly-selected contact list was effectively useless? Yikes.
  • 2 responded that evening.
  • 6 responded the next day.
  • 3 responded over the course of the next couple weeks, including the final response 15 days after receipt.

As of this writing, I received a total of 11 responses, which (after factoring in the undeliverables) is a 31% response rate of those who presumably received the email. Not bad for a random note with no real subject. Respondents included customers who I’d spoken with a few days before, a person I had met once at a conference 10 years ago, and my father – Hi, Dad. (I kept other identities confidential, and I’ll note here that I didn’t use any of my dad’s response in the content below.)

Responses. I was blown away by the information shared with me, given that in most cases our relationship could be considered past its “best by” date. Respondents, some of whom didn’t even really remember me, shared their life struggles, relationship problems, victories and defeats, and goals for the future. Many shared with me recent successes in health and business, and relayed to me their hopes and dreams for 2017 and beyond. Responses came from every region of the country. Here are a few sound bytes from the emails received:

  • From what I remember about you, you were skinny and recently married and young.
  • I’m going to be passionate about my family’s health and not just physical, but spiritual health.
  • I’m on sabbatical this year and enjoying seeing new things and travelling around the world.
  • Travel is in my weekly budget and chances are, if a friend asks me to visit, I’ll book it immediately.
  • Thanks I felt like I won the lottery.
  • Yes, weirdest email I have received in 2017.

In the end, it was a fun experiment that put me back in touch with people I hadn’t heard from in some time, and I’d recommend giving it a try.

Image Source: Flickr Creative Commons, flic.kr/p/4MLzSY

Advertisements

3 thoughts on “Experiment 1: Address Book Lottery”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s