My new vocabulary terms: Adjacent Possible and the (scholarly) Multiple (3 of 10)

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If you read this blog, you know that I am in the process of reading Where Good Ideas Come From by Steven Johnson. I finished Chapter 1: The Adjacent Possible yesterday and found so many good quotes and ideas in this chapter…and two new vocabulary terms for me.

The premise of the chapter is that organisms, communities, and ideas are generally able to only push themselves so far out of current boundaries. This idea that we have opportunities (and limitations) by concepts adjacent to current realities is fascinating to me. The author describes many examples of this phenomenon. (One example being that YouTube could not have been possible had it been conceptualized ten years earlier. The technology and the general public’s desire for sharing video on that level weren’t ready yet).

It was as I was reading about the scientific concept of multiples that I really got excited, as it’s a concept that I have explored before, but for which I did not have word. Many years ago, I started writing a novel that centered around an idea that one small group of humans had evolved missing (and therefore compensating for) a key physical characteristic of their species. I never completed the novel, but one of my main characters was an embittered, washed-up scientist who had missed fame and fortune by only a few weeks as another scientist went public with nearly the very same invention. The fact that two scientists were working on nearly identical inventions at the same time living thousands of miles apart is not an unusual phenomenon. Johnson gives several examples of this occurrence and refers to the phenomenon as “the multiple.” I love this quote:

“…just about every essential technological advance of modern life has a multiple lurking somewhere in its origin story.” (Location 396)

These concepts pose two big questions for me regarding my current work:

  1. What are the adjacent possibles that could move our work to the next step and expand boundaries we have not yet considered?
  2. Assuming that the concept of a “multiple” is correct, how can we move our ideas forward more quickly so that we are leaders of these new concepts…not “me toos.”

7 responses to “My new vocabulary terms: Adjacent Possible and the (scholarly) Multiple (3 of 10)

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