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Do what you can with what you have, where you are, right now.
Today is a good day to make things happen.
All possible futures are connected to where we are right now. Indeed, the future can only unfold from the capabilities and resources of the present. This is the theory of the "Adjacent Possible", which was originally put forward by Stuart A. Kauffman, a theoretical biologist and complex systems researcher, in the context of biological evolution. The concept has since been extended to various other fields like technology, innovation, and culture.
In the context of biological evolution, the "Adjacent Possible" refers to the range of potential organisms that could feasibly come into existence given the current configuration of existing organisms. It's 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.
A fish can’t suddenly evolve wings and fly. AI didn’t appear from nowhere; it was built technological development upon technological development. You can’t suddenly become CEO if you’re only starting out in your career.
The "Adjacent Possible" is the idea that transformation happens in steps from what is immediately accessible based on the current state. The opportunities for personal growth and learning that we can bring to life at any given moment progress from the skills, experiences, and insights we have accumulated so far.
"But I can learn, gain insights, and develop new skills," I hear you say.
Yes, you can, but that takes time.
And, people being who we are, you might not learn as much or as easily as you think you will.
The "Adjacent Possible" is all about incremental growth: building out in stages, starting from where you are, building on what you already know and can do. Here are a few ways to understand how to apply the "Adjacent Possible" to our personal development.
Step-by-step growth: Personal growth often happens step by step. Just like in the process of evolution or technological advancement, you can't typically skip steps. You build on your existing knowledge, skills, and experiences, expanding into your "Adjacent Possible."
Understanding limits and opportunities: Being aware of your "Adjacent Possible" helps you understand what your immediate growth opportunities are. This can help you focus your energy on feasible goals and objectives rather than aiming for something that might be currently out of reach.
Continuous learning and adaptation: As you learn and grow, your "Adjacent Possible" also expands, opening up new possibilities for further development. Recognising this can help you see the value of continuous learning and adaptation.
Limiting overwhelm: By focusing on the "Adjacent Possible," you can limit feelings of overwhelm that might come from seeing too large a gap between where you are now and where you want to be. By focusing on the immediate next steps, you can make consistent progress towards your bigger goals.
Unlocking creativity: Limitations and constraints are powerful drivers of creativity. When we think about how we work with what we have and where we are right now, we often look at how we combine existing elements in new ways. The author Arthur Koesteler once said, "The creative act is not an act of creation in the sense of the Old Testament. It does not create something out of nothing; it uncovers, selects, reshuffles, combines, and synthesises already existing facts, ideas, faculties, and skills." By focusing on your "Adjacent Possible," you might be able to see new connections and possibilities that you had overlooked.
Do what you can with what you have, where you are, right now.
Do what you can: Ideas inspire. Action makes things happen. Whatever change you want to make happen, identify the next steps within your reach rather than getting paralysed by the steps that are currently beyond your grasp.
With what you have: Look around and identify what’s available to you now; new combinations of existing elements can lead to new possibilities.
Where you are: Yes, the context that you’re currently in may be limiting—a toxic workplace, for example—but there will be opportunities.
Right now: There's no use waiting for conditions to be perfect or for some distant future when you'll, possibly, have more resources or knowledge. It's about embracing the here and now.
Concluding my thoughts today, here's the fundamental essence of the "Adjacent Possible": the present moment is your launching pad. It holds the materials, the knowledge, and the conditions necessary for the next phase of your growth or project. Far from being a restraint, the concept invites you to be pragmatic yet ambitious—realistic yet imaginative.
By acknowledging your "Adjacent Possible," you're not constraining your dreams; you're making them more achievable. You're not limiting your potential; you're providing a structured pathway for it to unfold, like a labyrinth of opportunities stretching out before you. With each step, the horizon of possibilities moves as well, offering an ever-evolving set of reachable goals.
So, what does this mean for you today?
Reflect on the Present: Take stock of where you are, what skills you possess, and what resources are at your disposal.
Identify the Next Steps: Look at your current situation and ascertain what the next logical steps are. They may not be monumental, but they are essential building blocks for the future you desire.
Take Action: Planning and strategising are beneficial, but nothing substitutes for the act of doing. Start with something small, manageable, and, crucially, achievable today.
Continuously Re-evaluate: Your "Adjacent Possible" is not a fixed state; it’s fluid. As you grow and adapt, the boundaries expand, and what was once impossible becomes feasible.
And let's not forget—sometimes the most profound transformations come from unexpected combinations and recombinations of what we already know and have. So while you’re busy charting your path, keep an open mind; you might find a shortcut or a hidden treasure that's been within your reach all along.
In conclusion, the theory of the "Adjacent Possible" is not a limitation but a compass—it's a way to navigate the endless sea of opportunities without getting lost. It's your friendly reminder that, even in a world of endless possibilities, the most meaningful actions you can take are rooted in the realities of the here and now. So, do what you can with what you have, where you are, right now. After all, the present is all we've truly got, and it's the only place where the future can be shaped.
And, yes, fish can fly.
One day, a Flying Fish worked out how to do that using what it already had—its fins.