Books about innovation fascinate me because they help me understand how people come up with new, world-changing ideas. At the top of my pile is Steven Johnson’s Where Good Ideas Come From. In it, he talks about the ‘adjacent possible’ -- a sort of shadow future that is just at the edge of today’s present and offers immense potential.
Think of it like this: You are standing in a room with four doors. You open and walk through each door, and on the other side is another room with three more doors. As you open door after door, entering room after room, you will soon find yourself in a room that you did not have access to from the room where you started.
That’s your adjacent possible. You can’t see it today. You can’t get to it today, at least not directly. But you can get there. The reward for doing so is access, not only to a wealth of new ideas, resources, expertise and opportunities you would have never known were available, but also to a world of people who are eager to learn from your experiences and teach you about things you know nothing about.
The most successful executive and entrepreneurs I know understand this model. So when I work with my clients, I push them to think about and explore how they can open lots of doors and tap into their adjacent possible as often and as broadly as they can.
How can you do that? Here are three steps everyone can take:
- Begin by convening and collaborating with those people within your own organization who are tackling other parts of the same challenge that you are. Identify like-minded individuals and invite them to lunch or organize a call to explore the idea of knowledge-sharing on a regular basis.
- Build your personal network by identifying others outside your company who share the same job title as yours or who are facing a similar next hurdle in their company or their career progression. LinkedIn is a great tool for this. Ask for a call, meeting, or get together at an upcoming trade show or industry event. Build a connection and agree to collaborate or share ideas whenever possible.
- If you are tackling a big challenge (clean water, global poverty, technological advancement), convene those in your industry, including those at competitive organizations. Set a simple agenda of sharing what your organization is learning and ask others to do the same. This sort of co-opetition model will help everyone expand their adjacent possible and create a more robust set of solutions for the entire industry.
No matter what issue, challenge, project or initiative you are working on, you are not alone. There are always others in your wider ecosystem if you begin to open the door to those possibilities. But you need to open the first door.
What will you do this year to connect with those in your ecosystem and broaden your own adjacent possible?