Using the Incredible Tool Called “Adjacent Possibilities”

My son is taking a class called “Applied Creativity.” Since I can’t make it down to Belmont University in Nashville three times a week, he’s happy to occasionally give me a synopsis of what he’s learning.

The other day he taught me the term “adjacent possibilities.” The basic idea is the creative thoughts come together from disparate places. Moving from one place to another the mind comes together with something exciting and brand new.

In a September, 2010, article, The Wall Street Journal describes it like this:

The strange and beautiful truth about the adjacent possible is that its boundaries grow as you explore them. Each new combination opens up the possibility of other new combinations. 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 that you haven’t visited yet. Once you open one of those doors and stroll into that room, three new doors appear, each leading to a brand-new room that you couldn’t have reached from your original starting point. Keep opening new doors and eventually you’ll have built a palace.

The article goes on to say that in the past the accepted way of creating ideas was building walls around them. Building walls around ideas meant that “in the long run, innovation will increase if you put restrictions on the spread of new ideas, because those restrictions will allow the creators to collect large financial rewards from their inventions. And those rewards will then attract other innovators to follow in their path.”

But now creators of all kinds are learning that “adjacent possibilities,” crossing over disciplines, bringing together widely different vocations, and opening new doors. It’s an especially effective way of creating today in a world where information is exploding. Just spend a few moments at StumbleUpon and you will be fueled with endless possibilities.

What adjacent possibilities do you see today? Please post them in the comments below. I’d love to learn from you.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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2 thoughts on “Using the Incredible Tool Called “Adjacent Possibilities”

  1. Christians should remember that our lives are already a synthesis of vocations: vocation as child; vocation as student, employee or business owner; vocation as spouse…etc.

    Creativity becomes stifled when we lose sight of the synthesis of vocations, and instead restrict creativity to only one vocation or aspect of life, i.e., "I must be creative in my job as a writer." I think what is probably the greatest obstacle to creativity is that we idealize it in the workplace (particularly by transforming it from an ongoing process to "a momentary flash of productive inspiration"), but ignore how creative we need to be in the rest of our vocations.

    When we acknowledge and celebrate the creativity that necessarily permeates our lives (or at least should do so), then we will see how life itself is the exercise of adjacent possibilities.