Our adjacent possible

Our future is unpredictable. One thing is for sure though. The only way we can go from point A to any potential point B we can imagine in our future is by passing through the adjacent possible.

What is the adjacent possible? The adjacent possible is a term coined by theoretical biologist Stuart Kauffman, and is summarized well by Steven Johnson as follows:

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. … The phrase captures both the limits and the creative potential of change and innovation.

This idea is powerful.

It’s powerful because it simultaneously expresses the unlimited potential for things to evolve and change in the future, but it also articulates the limited nature of the future too—the subtle constraint that dictates how we must arrive at any new reality.

Some futures we can imagine are simply too far removed from our current reality to jump to immediately. These are the ideas that might be considered “before their time”. What we have to do if we want to move in that direction is identify what “stepping stones” of adjacent possible we must traverse to move from our current reality to a scenario where our end result is just one final stepping stone away from being realised.

The adjacent possible is inexhaustable. The more we explore the it, the more it grows. With enough steps, anything is possible—but identifying the combination of stepping stones required to reach the future we want is one of the most difficult tasks in the world.

What’s in your adjacent possible? If you open one of those doors, what might become part of your adjacent possible?

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