PLAY WITH THE ADJACENT POSSIBLE
I’ve been noticing that much of the advice being bandied about by the guys trying to help us ordinary folks improve our dud-ly selves is to reach for innovation, to grab onto the Creativity Rocket and hang on for the sure-to-be-exciting but sometimes silly (and possibly dangerous) ride.
For example, vlogger John Spencer published this YouTube video in 2016 that tells us, “We Need a Bigger Definition of Creativity.”
Everyone who studies on these things will tell you that the world-in-all-its-glory is capable of extraordinary change.
Us humans, as the pushiest parts of this world and the ones most likely to move things around and tinker and build and re-purpose stuff, are all nascent agents of change, they tell us.
And they are right.
BUT, ARE YOU SURE YOU WANT TO BE A CHANGE-AGENT?
There’s just one problem with all that: Change-agents are very often disruptive sorts.
They don’t mean to be. They’re just exploring their own fascinations and pursuing their own obsessions.
However, they do tend to confuse and upset and irritate people who are just going along and getting by. They rock the boats of the ones who are liking the way the world is already set up just the way it is.
Change-agents can be especially unpopular with people whose power is based on the world being how it is.
Change-agents are likely to be the guys who get ridiculed and vilified and stomped down by their peers and the others around them.
If their ideas are particularly change-making, change-agents are the ones who end up getting denounced from assorted pulpits and beat up by fearful mobs of folks or burned at the stake by the ones who don’t like the possibilities to which the new ideas point.
This may make you uneasy.
It is also why people who are inclined to be innovative are admonished that they do need to learn how to connect better with the people around them.
This helps them find other people for whom the fascination of where the next new idea will take them is exciting.
Being a change-agent is lot more fun when you hang out with others who are also looking to change the world…or who are at least willing to change their mind.
WHEN AN IDEA IS “AHEAD OF ITS TIME”
Ideas and ways of walking and doing things that are very much more “advanced” or just very different than what has gone before are likely to meet resistance of every kind.
Infant ideas that are “ahead of their time” often get killed off before they can turn into anything tangible.
Either the necessary supporting technology is not yet part of the agreed-upon consensus-world that the change-agents share with the other people around them or else the prevailing, existing mindsets just can’t take in (much less digest) these new baby ideas and squishes them flat.
When these very good change-inducing ideas get re-discovered by innovative sorts living in friendlier times, the things take off running, dragging the whole reluctant, resistant world along.
This happens in science and technology; in art, music, literature, theater, fashion, design, and the rest of the creative milieu; in the business and working world; and in the lifestyles of people who work on transforming themselves into something other than what they used to be.
The whole point of knowing this is that you can aim yourself at looking for the “ideas whose time is now”, ideas that excite many other people in the world.
Perhaps one of those ideas will take you to the new places that will ring the world’s chimes.
THE ADJACENT POSSIBLE
In 2002, physician and theoretical biologist Stuart Kauffman (a free-thinker who has a tendency to confuse the heck out of a lot of his more mundane colleagues) figured out and developed a mind-map of the way real change works in the natural world.
Kauffman’s work was so esoteric and bound up in the evolutionary changes that occur in his unique mash-up, interdisciplinary world of biology, physics and astronomy that it had to be explained to us ordinary folks by science writer Steven Johnson in his 2010 book, WHERE GOOD IDEAS COME FROM: The Natural History of Innovation.
As Johnson explains, Kauffman discovered a theory that he called the “Adjacent Possible.”
Basically, what the thing says is that at any given moment the world is capable of extraordinary change, but only CERTAIN changes can actually happen.
What determines which changes CAN happen is the fact that other, supporting changes to a particular situation have already happened.
And then, if new changes happen because of the work the change-agent puts into making his or her new idea tangible and if others continue iterating and developing the idea, then other “adjacent possible” changes become available and so on.
“The strange and beautiful truth about the adjacent possible is that its boundaries grow as you explore these boundaries. Each new combination ushers new combinations into the adjacent possible,” says Johnson.
Think of it as a house that magically expands with each door you open.
You begin in a room with four doors, each leading to a new room you have not visited yet. These four rooms contain what Kauffman calls “the adjacent possible.”
So you open one of those four magic doors.
You stroll (or possibly sneak) into the new room that appears when you open that door and you notice that in that room there are three or more other new doors you can open.
Repeat the process and you come to another room with more doors.
Each of these doors is way the heck and gone across this very large room and each one of those doors leads to yet another brand-new room….and so on.
The mind-boggle is that you would not have been able to reach any of the possible brand-new rooms from your original starting point.
If you keep opening doors, who knows where you might end up?
One interesting riff on the way the world has been disrupted by all the ones who are busily exploring the adjacent possible was published by Heidrick and Struggles International.
The company says they are “a premier provider of senior level Executive Search, Culture Shaping and Leadership Consulting services.” (The capitals are all theirs.)
The factoids they present in their video, “A Disrupted World,” are amazing.
This video is particularly interesting because it shows the mindset of one of the top headhunter companies in the world….a definite indication that exploring the adjacent possible is an especially valuable way of walking.
CHANGE HAPPENS STEP BY STEP
The thing to remember in all this door-opening and wandering around in the weird places you discover behind all those doors is that most real changes are a gradual process.
The thing just keeps trundling along: If this happens, then that can happen. When that happens, then this next thing becomes possible and can happen.
All you have to add is water – your blood, your sweat, and your tears. (The changes you’d like to see probably doesn’t come with zippy high-velocity elevators and escalators.)
You can, of course, choose to step off a very high cliff, figuring that you’ll build wings on the way down. After all, that looks like a great short-cut and you’re creative, right? Sure….
I have to tell you, though, this is not a really good survival strategy — especially if you have the mechanical know-how of a toad and no floating workshop or friendly flying dragon or roc who will rescue you from your Stupid.
HACKING THE ADJACENT POSSIBLE STARTS AT THE THRESHOLD
Unlocking a new door and bravely going where nobody has gone before (and surviving to tell the tale) is tricky. Ask any Trekkie. They’ll tell ya.
Basically, you need to figure out ways to explore the edges of the possibilities that now surround you once you get the durned door open.
This can be as simple as changing the physical environment you work in, cultivating a specific kind of social network, or maintaining certain habits in the way you do your work or play your way.
From there you can develop the skills you’ll need to take you to the next level and beyond.
Be aware that you will probably have to shovel out manure and sort through mountains of “nope-doesn’t-work.”
Be aware that there are cliffs and thorns and probably hungry predators in this brave new world of yours.
In the middle of this process of exploring the adjacent possibles you encounter, you may have to re-think your expectations and aspirations and re-vamp your mind-maps yet again in the face of the “not-yet-possible” which is the shadow-side of all this playing around with possibility.
You might also find an utterly amazing adjacent possible that grabs you and everybody else around you by the throat.
As you get good at navigating through the adjacent possibles in your world, you may even figure out how to use those navigational skills to further your dream in more tangible ways.
Here are some cogent thoughts on that by engineer-turned-deep-thinker and skill-development coach Yazan Hijazi in his 2017 video, ‘Innovation vs Creativity Demystified.”
Hijazi explains the difference and the relationship between innovation and creativity beautifully.
Creativity, he says, is getting lots and lots of ideas. Innovation is about making some of these ideas real and getting people to buy into them or adopt them.
Hijazi tells you innovation comes in two flavors: “incremental” and “disruptive.” He explains what they are, what they do and what they are for.
In the video he explains how you can use these two types of innovation to explore the edges of the adjacent possibles that surround you (and how to survive and thrive while doing it).
THE DOING IS ALL THERE IS
One of my favorite books is A PATH OF MASTERY: Lessons on Wing Chun and Life from Sifu Francis Fong by Jim Brault.
In it, Brault reminds us, “In nature growth is gradual. It takes time, it can’t be forced.”
He asks, “Why are you in such a hurry anyway? Don’t worry if it takes a long time to learn. The longer it takes to learn, the longer it will stay with you.”
When you’re playing around with possibilities, it’s good to remember that you have to be able to take action, to do things. More importantly, you need to learn what to do and what not to do and when.
Learning about how you can do what you want to do is what gets you through that magical room you’re facing and how you get to the next door.
A VISION OF WONDER
This next video, published by The Culture Marketing Council in 2015, is a treat. It features film-maker, public speaker and television personality Jason Silva, who The Atlantic dubbed “A Timothy Leary of the Viral Video Age.” Enjoy!
Here’s a poem:
It seems to me always
That there are levels
And levels and levels.
And when you’ve slogged
Your way to the top of one,
And mastered every step along the way,
You find that you are standing
On the threshold of yet another
That beckons you to enter into
Other wonders, other nows.
Sometimes you stand there
At this next gateway and sigh,
Knowing that again here is the choice:
You can stay where you are
And be a master, strong and whole,
The one on whom others depend,
Or you can step across the line
And lose it all, become an egg,
A useless chick, fresh-hatched,
Peeping and cheeping potentiality.
And that next step
Is the hardest one to take.
It’s not easy, sloughing off
The tried, the true.
And it’s a painfulness to lose
The you that you have made,
An impregnable mountain tower,
High above the world,
A beacon shining, beckoning,
And leading the way.
It’s through the birth canal again you go,
So it’s no wonder if you take it kind of slow.
By Netta Kanoho
Header photo credit: “Exploration” by Riccardo Cuppini via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
SOME OTHER POSTS TO EXPLORE:
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Thanks for your visit. I’d appreciate it if you would drop a note or comment below and tell me your thoughts.
26 thoughts on “PLAY WITH THE ADJACENT POSSIBLE”
What a great site, really appreciate your efforts as you came up with this site, your site is somehow attracting sympathy and as a result it makes someone have the eagerness to read more and more to get the whole story.
It’s well detailed with information containing YouTube videos and some images.
Personally I would like to ask you to join some affiliate purchase links to your site to make it easy earn via your site.
Thanks for the visit, Matthew. I do appreciate your comments.
Please do come again….
Hi Netta. Interesting post. In theory, it sounds great the idea of being a change-agent in this world.
But in reality (sorry I shouldn’t be negative) it requires a lot of determination and a thick skin – not everyone is going to appreciate a challenge to traditional ways of thinking! It’s important to break out of the box though (even for a season at least) and experience a different way of living!
Thanks for the visit and for sharing your thoughts, James.
What some folks call “negativity” may be what other folks call a “reality check.” Depends on how you use it.
I’d encourage you to give stepping out of the box a shot.
Please do come again….
You keep surprising me Netta, and funny enough, am very happy to be on your site for good. This is just amazing.
Thanks for the visit, Ayodeji. Your comment makes me smile. YAY! Another seeker-mind!
Please do come again….
Once again, thank you for the awesome post!
There is something beautiful about your posts, as you are able to get what you are trying to say out through the use of stories and poetry. This is simply beautiful, and it is a more effective way of getting a point across.
Change can be tough, and it is a step by step process, but it is worth it in the end.
Viewing change as a journey, and a challenge that can be tackled, is a great way to view it, in my opinion! We are all on a journey in life, and change can be a welcomed part of that journey!
Jessie, welcome back and thanks for sharing your thoughts. I am glad you are liking my posts.
Please do come again.
I love the analogy with the doors and more and more of them begging to be opened. I wish I could find a real place like this to explore.
However, in real life, opening new doors can be a scary thing, but in order to grow and move upwards in our lives we need to challenge ourselves and open new doors and new experiences for ourselves, or we will just stagnate.
Thank you for a thought provoking post that really got me thinking.
Michel, thanks for your visit and for sharing your thoughts. I, too, wish there was a magic house like the one in my post. That would be so-o-o-o cool!
I am pleased the post got you thinking.
Please do come again.
I found this article to be very interesting but then again all your articles are very interesting.
Creativity is such an important human endeavour. Without it we will be nothing as everything we do comes out of what the human mind is capable.
I find this adjacent possible to be fascinating, as all creativity will be successful or even necessary. How many ideas have people had to solve a non-existent problem? As they say, not every problem has a solution, not every solution has a problem.
As ever your poetry is very good.
Antonio, welcome back and thanks for sharing your thoughts. I like your thought that just as not every problem has a (possible) solution (yet), not every solution has a problem. OOOH! Mind-boggle alert!
Please do come again….
To be honest Netta, when I came across this article, I was ready to be bored by another one of those tales of what’s possible or not. You should know though, I was disappointed.
This is the kind of piece that engages my imagination and challenges me to THINK.
I like to think of myself as a change-agent (at least, I try to be). As you rightly said, it can be a scary idea.
I really appreciate your perspective. I’ll be sure to bookmark this site, because I am certain I can’t get enough of the ideas in your head.
Thank you for sharing
Rhain, thanks for your visit and for sharing your thoughts. I’m glad the post disappointed your expectation of being bored. Hee!
Please do come again.
Greetings and thank you for the exciting read, explaining the change agent really touched my heart.
I didn’t care too much for the array of videos. I think the videos are valuable to bringing the message home, but me personally am a bit more interested in reading.
Poems are my interest as I have a brother who writes, and I think you done a great job with your mix of writing and images.
I just wanted to ask, are you in the poem niche or the self help/motivation niche?
I don’t know, but life poems are powerful motivation and adds value to targeted groups with similar experiences.
Just a piece of advice for those who can’t stand long read and video time: Poems alone are sufficient in delivering a strong message, and the average time people spend on a new website may depend on several factors, so sometimes less is more!
Thanks again for your message and creativity.
Omar, thank you for your visit and for sharing your thoughts.
I do agree with your thought that poems are often “sufficient” in delivering a strong message. The problem is that, often, unless the reader is from a similar background or has a similar mindset, a mind-to-mind/heart-to-heart connection often does not happen.
What happens is a big HUH???
You end up talking only to people who agree with you or who walk the same way you do. That’s fine; I just find it boring.
I am a storyteller as well as a poet, I think. My niche is probably about learning how to be a good and cheerful human and to thrive in the glorious abundance with which we’ve been gifted.
The explorations do take time. Deep-thinking and thinking different does tends to do that.
I like to think that my readers will enjoy exploring new ideas and alternative ways of being and that they’ll look kindly at me and at each other (and maybe even have some fun along the way).
People who are not interested in that sort of thing probably won’t stop in anyway. I guess they are not my audience. Whatever.
Please do come again.
Greetings and thank you for the reply! Keep doing what you were gifted to do! Spread your message! I pray that your efforts and your message may reach, be of great value and benefit many people!
All the best to you!
Thank you, omar. Be well….
Hello Netta, you never cease to amaze me at all. Keep it coming because I had a great time reading through this post on play with the adjacent of possible.
I think I am found in this category right now. People don’t believe in most things I think would happen. I keep exploring and I keep finding new stuffs, most work out and others don’t.
Welcome back, Mr. B. You go! It’s better to be a thermostat rather than a thermometer, I say! (Thermostats can actually make change happen. Thermometers just react to what’s already there.)
Keep on making your explorations, and may more work out than not.
Please do come again.
Hey there, interesting article you’ve put together here.
To be totally honest, I read it a couple of times and I’m not really sure what the message of this post actually is exactly.
Are you trying to say that if you want to be an agent of change in the world that there might be many unseen outcomes to the change you’ve made, so be careful when going about making a change?
Would you mind clarifying what this adjacent possible idea is supposed to mean for the every day person?
Justin, thanks for your visit and for your questions. They are important ones.
Your first question has to do with the consequences of becoming a “change agent” and working on making changes in your life and in your world. Sometimes we forget that every move we make and every plan or desire we choose to pursue does have some sort of consequences.
Every time you try to make some kind of change in the world — especially those that affect those around us — you are going to have to displace or move aside something you already have. To add a new thing into your life, you have to always make room for it somehow.
Yeah, I know. It’s a given. Often, though, the bright and shiny new thing blinds us to what we might have to give up in order to get it. It’s a good idea to look at that as well before going forward. Sometimes what we lose is so much more than what we gain.
All the rah-rah rally squad of guys (me included) who urge you to go for it à la Nike-style never remember to tell you the part about stopping and thinking first about whether what you will give up is something you can afford to lose.
The “adjacent possible” is basically a way of looking at how change works. When you make a small change, other possibilities arise…mostly because you made that little change. It just expands on outward endlessly if you keep on moving and opening up more and more doors.
One thought that stands out for me about it is this: Don’t get too stuck in trying to plan out all of the everything you are going to do/have to do to get to where you want to go. All you really have to do is open one door and step over the threshold. Then you look around and you will most likely find other ways to move towards your goals.
The other thought is that if you do NOT open the door, then the possibilities that would be available to you just aren’t there. You gotta make the moves. Then other things happen. Some of them are really excellent.
Hope those thoughts help.
Please do come again.
First of all I love your site and it relates to mine is so many ways! This post is just wonderful from the videos you have attached about cognitive repositioning to breaking through the doors to new possibilities.
In the face of adversity taking a stand and going where no person has before is the only way for real growth. We do what we can in order to keep moving forward and all the possibilities around us lead us to the place we are now.
I love the idea that our adjacent possibilities grow as we explore these possibilities!
Great read…thank you for publishing this post.
Caleb, thanks for your visit and for sharing your thoughts. I’m very pleased the post resonated with you.
Please do come again.
Although I am not a change-agent, I am far too much of an introvert for it, I can see that change-agents are required. I see them as being activists on many occasions, but they play an extremely important role.
They make us question and think for ourselves. Many fear them because they advocate change, and those that are too comfortable in what they know, do not want to be presented with anything that is often better. So, they banish change-agents, often because of fear.
Never stop opening doors and exploring the adjacent, it is far more exciting and will expand your thinking and horizons.
Welcome back, LineCowley. I think, perhaps, we all seem to take for granted that “change-agents” are the shouty sorts who push and shove what they think are their coolest and bestest stuff at us (often unasked). I’m not so sure that notion is altogether accurate.
I have known many quiet people whose influence is like a magic bubble. The changes they nurture and encourage in themselves and in other people are the ones that help us grow our hearts into beauty and possibility and hope. In their presence, you can just rest because there’s no need to be more or less than who you are.
Someday I hope to be more like those people. I think learning how to build yourself into a being that celebrates and honors the joy in Life-Its-Own-Self and the wonderment contained in the other people in your life is a cool thing. Our consensus world doesn’t often reward that kind of effort with loud accolades or glittery treasures.
If you do choose to be that sort of change-agent, it’s likely that you may not even be noticed and you do spend a lot of time dancing on cliff-edges, it seems. The rewards are largely intangible.
The sort of change-agents who build everyday ordinary sanctuaries for themselves and the people around them often go unnoticed in the tumult of this frantic modernity we have made together. The ones who are busy pushing and shoving their way through all the hoo-hah pull all the eyes in the mad crowds toward them.
(This means it is a lot easier for the quiet sorts to make effective changes in a really sneaky undercover way. Hee!)
Myself, I keep working on it.
Please do come again….