How many people spend their time trying to connect products and inventions in the present to the foundation that came before it, I cannot say.
“Adjacent possibilities,” though, infer that what is possible now is so only because the groundwork was previously set by what came before. Pinterest, for example, would not be possible if not for blogging sites that existed over a decade earlier. PayPal needed the ability to have secure sessions in an otherwise non-secure environment in order for it become an idea, let alone a success. YouTube, even, needed the advancements in storage and bandwidth, which preceded its founding, to make it feasible.
The concept of the Adjacent Possible is one that Steven Johnson writes about in “Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation.” While far more of the book focuses on Darwin than is necessary (hence the “Natural History” portion of the subtitle), there are many discussions that will have you scratching your head in thought. Each invention Johnson traces builds on what came before it and then opens up a whole world of other possibilities that come after. Notable among the examples he uses is that of the printing press, which revolutionized so much yet borrowed from technologies that previously existed in other industries. This theme of borrowing and repurposing consistently appears in the examples. Years can pass between inventions and repurposing, but all open up possibilities not otherwise imagined.
This is not the only book on the topic of creativity to become popular of late. What sets it apart from others in the field though — such as Jonah Lehrer’s “Imagine” — is the attention to detail and focus it has. Ordinarily, such reiteration and repetition can produce a boring product, but that is not the case here.
Knowing that the adjacent possible exists opens up some lines of thought that can be disturbing. As an example, it is proven that creativity is increased in areas with greater populations — there is more exposure to ideas, inventions, and opinions. Resources don’t increment simply arithmetically — wherein those in a city of 200,000 are twice as creative as those in a city of 100,000 — but more exponentially with cities of more than 1 million being ideal. Exceptions apply, of course, but the United States is low on the list of cities with sizable populations. No more than 10 U.S. cities (depending on which set of numbers you use) have at least 1 million residents compared to more than 150 cities in China alone.
It doesn’t take much of a stretch to realize that if the environment is more favorable elsewhere, then it is possible to fall behind in creativity. Losing ground in today’s idea-based economy is something that should be avoided if at all possible. Unless we are willing to forfeit the last true edge that we have in this global economy, then we have to make the nurturing of creativity a priority. Venture capital, as well as government funds, and a commitment to furthering innovation must become goals.
U.S. ingenuity is not something we want to think of in the past tense.
Anderson University is a private Christian university of 2,600 undergraduate and graduate students in central Indiana. Anderson University continues to be recognized as one of America's top colleges by U.S. News and World Report, The Princeton Review, and Forbes. Established in 1917 by the Church of God, Anderson University offers more than 65 undergraduate majors and graduate programs in business, music, nursing, and theology. The Falls School of Business is one of Anderson University’s largest academic departments offering eight undergraduate majors as well as MBA and DBA programs. The school is accredited by the Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP) and is a member of the Christian Business Faculty Association (CBFA).