"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. " - Steven Johnson
I love the idea that you can begin to explain, let alone predict or manufacture, innovation.
This article in the MIT Technology Review explores the interplay between the actual and the possible, and a new mathematical model that attempts to explain innovation. It plays around with the basic principle that the possible follows on from what exists.
The same pattern behind the way innovations emerge repeats itself all over. This connectivity reminds me of the way Star Trek kept accidentally predicting future technology. And it leaves me thinking about my own 'shadow future'.
In our line of work as marketers we deal with data analysis quite regularly. We constantly monitor our campaigns for traction, and consult the numbers to shape our approach to future campaigns. If we get unexpected results, we look at what we did and how it could be improved next time.
Compiling reports on blogs and emails, recording video marketing metrics, conducting social listening & monitoring etc. ...all of this gives us a better understanding of how we’re doing, as well as what the next steps should be.
And by looking at our results, we can form a much better understanding of what works for our audience and what doesn’t. If innovation is essentially about trial, discovery and progression, then we should always be striving to learn more and experiment more.
I don't know if you can force innovation, but we’re always looking for the best way forward. And it’s kind of fun to think that, by this logic, you’re always just one small step from the next big thing.
The notion that innovation arises from the interplay between the actual and the possible was first formalized by the complexity theorist Stuart Kauffmann. In 2002, Kauffmann introduced the idea of the “adjacent possible” as a way of thinking about biological evolution. The adjacent possible is all those things—ideas, words, songs, molecules, genomes, technologies and so on—that are one step away from what actually exists. It connects the actual realization of a particular phenomenon and the space of unexplored possibilities. But this idea is hard to model for an important reason. The space of unexplored possibilities includes all kinds of things that are easily imagined and expected but it also includes things that are entirely unexpected and hard to imagine. And while the former is tricky to model, the latter has appeared close to impossible.