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PLAY WITH THE ADJACENT POSSIBLE

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.

fear-of-the-dark
“Fear of the Dark” by stuart anthony via Flickr [CC BY-NC 2.0]
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.

so-it-begins
“So it begins” by Phototropy via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]

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.”

room-with-doors-2
“Room with Doors (2060-2)” by Brent Eckly [CC BY 2.0]
Okay.

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.

room-with-doors
“Room with Doors (IMG_8881)” by David Bramhall [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
Repeat the process and you come to another room with more doors.

exploration-2
“Exploration” by Flavio Spugna [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
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?

urban-exploration
“Urban Exploration” by Patrick BAUDUIN via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
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….

gentle-journey
Gentle Journey” by Domy Kamsyah via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND]
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.

continued-exploration
“Continued Exploration by skagitrenee via Flickr [CC BY-2.0]
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:


LEVELS

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]

Thanks for your visit.  I’d appreciate it if you would drop a note or comment below and tell me your thoughts.

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WORRY-BUSTING (Another Inner Peace Symptom)

WORRY-BUSTING (Another Inner Peace Symptom)

Another IPS (Inner Peace Symptom):  a disinclination to encourage catastrophic thinking and worrying.  [Worst-case scenarios rarely happen.  Allowing yourself to get caught up in mind-loops about them just makes you dizzy and paralyzes you.]

THE HUMAN DIFFERENCE

I am reading a book, BODY INTELLIGENCE:  Harness Your Body’s Energies for Your Best Life by the renowned body energy expert and holistic psychologist, Dr. Joseph Cardillo, PhD.  A fascinating read.

It starts from the premise that “you are energy, your world is energy, and everything in your world is energy.”  It goes on from there.

In it, the good doctor combines Western science, technology, psychology, holistic medicine and ancient wisdoms as well as years of experiences and stories to teach you how to tap into your own inherent human energy.  He presents helpful suggestions and strategies that enable you to access this energy and help you live your best life.

One interesting concept Cardillo points out is this:  Unlike other animals, humans have the gift of visualization.  Lucky us.

We humans can imagine events that haven’t happened and we can actually see them in our mind’s eye.  We can build whole worlds in our heads that don’t exist and plop ourselves right inside them.  We can make up epic stories about what can happen to us in these worlds we make up.

The reason you can do this, Carillo explains, is because of your brain’s attention network which relies on information you’ve stored in your memory as well as all the millions of bits of external information that’s available to you and how you gather this information together.

We humans are all so good at doing this that we can trigger very real emotional and physical reactions in ourselves.  Consider this.  In the middle of a strong visualization you can have all kinds of feelings and thoughts about the imagined scenario.  You just naturally consider all kinds of possibilities – some good, others bad.

Because we are such integrated creatures and since our minds affect our bodies as much as our bodies affect our minds, visualization can be a blessing or a curse.

You can ride so high on a tide of bliss that you lose your way, like a balloonist tossed around in high winds.  (Bliss feels really, really good.  Mostly, though, you can’t steer well when your head’s all spacey like that.)

Ideally, if you are able to ride out the less-idyllic aspects of your visualization, you can use the swift kick in the behind that’s the gift that the uneasiness and queasiness we call “worry” carries to sharpen your focus on the situation you’re imagining, to enhance your comprehension of its nuances and ramifications, and to effectively execute actions to overcome assorted real-life challenges that you are likely to face on your way to your envisioned goal.

Alternatively, you might be overwhelmed and drown in the anxieties that arise as a result of your visualization of all of the possible disasters, catastrophes and other worst-case scenarios that your mind can conjure.  This last can cause serious damage to your body and your mind.

worry
“Worry” by Kristian Dela Cour via Flickr [CC BY-SA 2.0]

THE DOWNSIDE OF WORRYING

Anxiety, which is a natural consequence of worry, triggers your body’s flight-fight response.  This causes your body’s sympathetic nervous system to release stress hormones such as cortisol, which can boost blood sugar levels and triglycerides (blood fats) that can be used by the body for fuel.

Physical reactions (in alphabetical order) could include:

  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Dizziness
  • Dry mouth
  • Fast heartbeat
  • Fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Irritability
  • Muscle aches
  • Muscle tension
  • Nausea
  • Nervous energy
  • Rapid breathing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sweating
  • Trembling and twitching

Studies have shown that if the excessive fuel in your blood caused by chronic anxiety and all that outpouring of stress hormones is not used for physical activities, there can be severe consequences.  Muscle tension, premature coronary artery disease, and heart attacks are possible.  Your digestive system gets wonky and your immune system gets compromised.

Not only that, but short-term memory loss is not uncommon.  If the excessive worrying and high anxiety continues, they can lead to depression and even suicidal thoughts.

Catastrophic thinking, worrying, and anxiety is not a good alternative.

dont-worry-be-happy
“don’t worry, be happy” by anthony fain via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]

BACK-TO-THE PRESENT METHOD

This You-Tube video, “Three Steps to Overcoming Worry” was published in 2014 by depression counselor Doug Bloch who is, himself, prone to anxiety, worry and depression.

Again, here are Bloch’s Big Three:

  • Reel in your mind to the here-and-now, where you are safe.
  • Acknowledge that your catastrophic thoughts are not real.
  • Positive self-talk or action that allows you to focus on the outside world rather than hanging out in your interior spaces help break the hold of a persistent worry.

FIGHT WORRY WITH KNOWLEDGE

Another way to deal with the tendency to catastrophize and worry is to develop mastery.

Joshua Slocum was a solo sailor who set out to sea from Massachusetts in a stubby oyster sloop just shy of 37 feet on April 24, 1895.  He said he was going to circumnavigate the planet by himself in this small sailboat.  Everybody thought he was insane.

In his book about his adventure, SAILING ALONE AROUND THE WORLD, Joshua said, “To know the laws that govern the winds, and to know that you know that you know them, will give an easy mind on your voyage round the world; otherwise you may tremble at the appearance of every cloud.”

The young man giving a review about a book called THE WORST CASE SCENARIO SURVIVAL HANDBOOK in this You-Tube video published by 190 granary in 2009 obviously agrees that the best strategy is to figure out what you’re going to do ahead of time.

The book was written by Joshua Pivens and David Borgenicht.

TO-WORRY LIST

Everybody has a number of concerns that are important but not in-your-face-urgent.  They’re the stuff you know you need to address at some point when you’ve got some breathing room.

The problem is Urgent has a tendency to overshadow Important – things like de-cluttering your life, developing a saner budget or diet, putting together a will, getting your important files and papers organized or upgrading your education — get buried under more mundane things like “What’s for dinner?” and “What are we going to do about _____________ (fill in the blank with some cliffhanger dilemma).”

Martial artist Jim Brault, author of several books about martial arts mindset including A PATH OF MASTERY:  Lessons on Wing Chun and Life from Sifu Francis Fong, suggests constructing a To-Worry List.

Brault says the reasoning behind constructing a To-Do List is that once you write the thing down on your list, you know you will be coming back to it and you will be addressing it so you don’t have to think about it until it’s time to do the thing.

The To-Worry List is a list of stuff you know you want or need to attend to.  These are things that you know you want to address.

They are important, but they don’t have to be done right away.  They’re the things that nudge and poke at you every once in a while or lie there waiting for you to notice them again and again and again.

The To-Worry List, he says, is a promise to yourself that you really are going to look at each issue again.  Write them down.  Let them sit.  Revisit the list and put in some time considering different approaches.

Make decisions as you figure out what you want to do as the next step to move each one forward.  Do one step and finish that step.  Keep on coming back, making decisions, do another step.

Do that often enough and your mind will begin to believe that it can let go of the worry the issue evokes.

A WORRY-FREE LIFE

My favorite take on this whole thing is this YouTube video, “The 5-Letter Secret to a Worry-Free Life” posted by Goalcast in 2017.

The video features His Grace Gaur Gopal Das, a former software engineer who became a monk, a student of the Vedas and a disciple of Radhanath Swami.

Here’s a poem.


CONTROL

Control…ummm…

What we talkin’ here?

Who is being done to?

By whom?

And who be doin’ the doin’…

Or the not-doin’.

 

Are we talking structural constraints?

Are we talking mile-high walls

And fences with concertina wire on top?

Are we talking moats?

Are we talking dead-ended cul-de-sacs

And mazes filled with man-traps

Built like cockroach motels?

Are we talking barred and shuttered windows?

Are we talking triple-padlocked gates?

Are we talking doors with twenty-seven assorted locks

Plus electronic surveillance connections

And flying spy-drones buzzing ’round?

 

Are we talking border guards and canine patrols –

Or maybe squads of trained jackals and baboons?

Are we talking shackles and chains?

Are we talking those restraining jackets and sticky stuff

They dress you in when you go mad because

There’s no place you can catch your breath

And no place you can stand up straight?

 

Are we talking economic privileges and sanctions…

A whole other can of nasty?

Are we talking societal mores and pronouncements

Set in ersatz-stone

That damn you ’cause you do

And damn you ’cause you don’t,

All of them promulgated by the fearful

Who hope to turn the Mystery into Disneyland –

Oh, of course,

“For our own protection….”

Trying really hard to shrink the infinite

Into comfortable little boxes

Available at Wal-Mart as a set of four for $5.99?

 

Are we talking mind-games?

Are we talking emotional push-buttons and whack’em down hammers

Wielded by little old blue-haired ladies in tennis shoes

And their stiff old Robber Baron honeys –

The Guardians of Propriety – in their bastions of status quo?

Are we talking poisoned slings and arrows

Shot by the stainless-steel cute crowd –

The ones with the amassed “buzz?”

Are we talking bitter, bile-laced flamethrowers

In the hands of the designated Victims of the World,

Who are on some perpetual whine or other

About how it is all Somebody Else’s fault

And how, now, THEY gotta pay?

 

Or maybe we’re talking ’bout

The prove-you-love-me moves,

The expectations and the if-then slides

From the ones in whose hands you have already placed

Your raw and bleeding heart.

 

Gee, wow.

I’m not a fan.

Does it show?

by Netta Kanoho

Header photo credit:  “Maui” by Francois via Flickr [CC BY-NC 2.0]

Thanks for your visit.  I’d appreciate it if you would drop a note or comment below and tell me your thoughts.

 

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