The Adjacent Possible

“All of us live in our own private versions of the adjacent possible.  In our work lives, in our creative pursuits, in the organizations that employ us, in the communities we inhabit—in all these different environments, we are surrounded by potential new configurations, new ways of breaking out of our standard routines.” -Steven Johnson, Where Good Ideas Come From, 40.

The “adjacent possible” is the set of all future states that are one step away; it’s why the Internet couldn’t have been invented in medieval times, but so many programs are written daily now. Johnson uses the metaphor of walking through a door into another room, which then has three more doors that lead to rooms you couldn’t have reached directly from your starting point.

This has interesting personal applications, beyond what it means for innovation and progress.  On one hand, the new and different is only a step away, waiting for us to make a new connection or open a new door.  On the other hand, we can only move so quickly and expect so much; change is often gradual because it involves many incremental steps.

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