The Adjacent Possible

What is innovation, really?

Stuart Kauffmann is a theoretical biologist and medical doctor who studies the origin of life and molecular organization. In 2002, he coined the term "the adjacent possible" and backed it up with some very cool math showing the vast complexity of all possible combinations and interactions of evolution. He shows us a world in which the "actual" of any given moment in time is surrounded by the adjacent possible - that is, everything that could happen. It's anything that is one step away from what exists now in the unexplored possibilities. 

The adjacent possible as a concept has been applied in many other fields of study including languages, machine intelligence, and more. 

It's a basic building block to understanding how innovation works.

I was giving a keynote recently on the topic of innovation, and thanks to my hosts, the Alaska Water and Wastewater Management Association, this short video snippet demonstrates one way the adjacent possible plays out in our day-to-day decision making. 

Because of a technical glitch that eliminated use of my slide visuals, you can watch me improvise with the adjacent possible on stage: exploring the interplay between Kauffmann's expertise in complex systems and our own thoughts and behaviors as we work to solve real-life problems. 

The concept of the adjacent possible will probably stick with you. Let it percolate. Think about how your awareness of and relationship with the adjacent possible informs how you show up, e.g., how well you navigate and create change. Find it in the dynamics you see play out in groups, at work, and more.  

Watch the video (less than 3 minutes):

Are you interested in the science of innovation and how it applies to personal leadership and organizational survival? My leadership programs, keynotes, webinars, and workshops will help you master innovation mindset and culture. Let's talk.



Erin Mosley