What is the Adjacent Possible?

What is the Adjacent Possible?

MarketScale
March 30, 2018

In an interview for The Guardian, Steven Johnson describes his notion of the “adjacent possible” as a vision of cultural history in which innovation develops as a collective process, like “one door leading to another,  exploring the palace one room at a time.”

“Think of playing chess,” the article continues, “at any point in the game, several ingenious moves may be possible, but countless others won’t be. Likewise with inventions: the printing press was only possible – and perhaps only thinkable – once moveable type, paper and ink all existed. YouTube, when it was launched in 2005, was a brilliant idea; had it been launched in 1995, before broadband and cheap video cameras were widespread, it would have been a terrible one. Or take culture: to 1950s viewers, Johnson argues, complex TV shows such as Lost or The Wire would have been borderline incomprehensible, like some kind of avant-garde art, because certain ways of engaging with the medium hadn’t yet been learned. And all this applies, too, to the most basic innovation: life itself. At some point, back in the primordial soup, a bunch of fatty acids gave rise to a cell membrane, which made possible the simplest organisms, and so on. What those acids couldn’t do was spontaneously form into a fish, or a mouse: It wasn’t part of their adjacent possible.”

Maybe I will write more on the topic.  For now, I just highly recommend both the article and Johnson’s book.  

Also check out the articles in Wired and The Wall Street Journal, as well as the TED Talk

 

 

 

Any comments?  Thoughts?  I’d love to hear them!

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