Weekly Research and Commentary on the Future of Business and Technology.
Exploring the Adjacent Possible.
Oct 25, 2022
After a feverish couple of months in developments on ever-better text-to-image systems such as DALL-E and Stable Diffusion, the space is now tackling the next frontier: video. Keep an eye on this space — the pace of innovation in this space is breathtaking.
Read to the end to learn why there are so few dead bugs on your windshield these days.
Practical Futurism // Decode. Disrupt. Transform.
I first heard about the “adjacent possible” from the medical/healthcare futurist and big data expert Michael Gillam, a longtime friend and colleague from our time at Singularity University. This was probably 2015, and Mike would usually invoke the adjacent possible in conversations with executives about just how many unexplored possibilities (and potential innovations/products/solutions) might be waiting to be discovered in data that organizations were already sitting on – or could easily collect from their existing customer base.
The idea that potential innovations and a set of alternative, preferred futures for a company (specifically, a significantly digitized, data-driven company) might be waiting to be realized via the exploitation of big data was definitely in vogue in the early 2010s. But the theory of the adjacent possible, first articulated by the systems biologist and polymath Stuart Koffman ten years earlier, is broader and richer than the data-centric version.
For Koffman (and Steven Johnson, who later popularized the theory in his book Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation), the adjacent possible was about how possible futures are enabled by the various combinations of conditions, events, and activities that have occurred prior. Koffman initially focused on biological examples (e.g., the unfathomable set of biological futures implicit in all possible combinations of available amino acids; the ways that some evolutionary adaptations later proved advantageous in surprising, alternative applications – such as feathers that were evolved for warmth but enabled flying, etc.). Over time, his theory similarly exapted to serve a broader conversation about innovation in technology and business.
Every organizational leader has the opportunity to use the idea of the adjacent possible to explore a set of alternative futures that might be realized. We can consider not only what possibilities might be enabled via the exploitation of existing (or in-reach) data streams but also how the various recombinations of existing organizational capabilities, resources, and currencies might enable an organization or a team to experiment with an adjacent space of opportunity – or an alternative means of performing your essential “job to be done.” The scope of possibilities is, almost by definition, far greater than we tend to think, but unlike evolution in nature, we first have to give ourselves (and our teams) permission to follow curiosity, question assumptions & constraints, and playfully engage with uncertainty. (via Jeffrey)
What We Are Reading
🙀 Carry on screaming: why letting it all out, especially for women, can make you calmer and happier Stressed? Try structured yelling. It triggers a neuro-physical response that can release endorphins and happy hormones. Mafe ⇢ Read
👤 Research Twice, Build Once: How to Know Your Users as You Grow Knowing how to do the right kind of user research the right way at the right time will help you more efficiently (and reliably) build what actually matters to your market. Jeffrey ⇢ Read
🖨️ Please stop calling it the ‘newsletter economy’ Subscription newsletters as drivers of independence for writers make a lot of sense. This illustrates the rapid increase in the sector in recent years. Julian ⇢ Read
👩💻 Imagine a Computer That Expands Your Vision by Looking at the Whole Problem at Once History can teach us much about the future. Point in case: This brochure from the company Thinking Machines envisions a computer system looking at problems holistically. In 1986! Pascal ⇢ Read
🧨 Disrupt Disruption: We got to speak with Natasha Gedge, COO at Signal and former Chief Operating Officer of the UK Ministry of Defence’s most successful innovation team. In our conversation, Natasha and I explore her approach to innovation in a highly complex and interdependent environment, why and how organizations fail and what to do about it. Listen now.
Radically yours, take good care, friend!
— Pascal, Mafe, Vivian and the three Js (Jane, Jeffrey, and Julian)
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