April 19

In his book Where Good Ideas Come From, author and researcher Steven Johnson introduced a term he borrowed from evolutionary biology: the adjacent possible. According to Johnson, “The adjacent possible is a kind of shadow future, hovering on the edges of the present state of things, a map of all the ways in which the present can reinvent itself… What the adjacent possible tells us is that at any moment the world is capable of extraordinary change, but only certain changes can happen.”

Good ideas, he argues, arrive when someone commits to playing with ideas that are just at the periphery of lived experience, just beyond the present state. It takes intentional effort to get to these ideas, because you must take the time and expend the energy to toy with combinations of ideas that might not work. However, when you stumble across a combination of dots that click together, it often signals a creative breakthrough.

Do you have time set aside in your life for exploring the adjacent possible? For toying with ideas and experimenting with concepts? While it feels inefficient in the moment, this is often where you will produce tremendous value.

To come up with novel ideas, you must play with ideas, experiment with themes, and explore the adjacent possible.

When can you set aside time this week to choose a project and explore the adjacent possible?

Related Articles