Adjacent Possible

I was reading about the idea of ‘Adjacent Possible’ in the book Where do good ideas come from. I'm halfway through the book, and it has an amazing amount of insights into the creative process. I love books like this. Adjacent possible is how new ideas develop by exploring the edges of what is currently possible. This often means that we can’t make giant leaps in progress. Because progress happens by exploring adjacent possibilities. The podcast Radiolab discussed a similar idea about 'incremental changes'.

If I compare it to drawing and writing comics, I take it to mean that you have to learn to crawl before you walk. You may wish to write a 200 page graphic novel and even have the greatest idea in your head. But you won’t be able to pull that off until you have made a one page comic, then a comic 3 pages long, a 12 page mini-comic, and so on. You have to build your chops. Progressing to that huge graphic novel project takes incremental changes.

It doesn’t matter if you fail along the way. Just trying will give you enough information to know what it takes to complete a work. In fact, failing is the only way you will learn and grow. If everything needs to be perfect, or you’re afraid of making a mistake, you will be too scared to even put pen to paper. So I say dive right in, make mistakes, look stupid, feel silly. Work comes from work, you have to make something before you can mold it into something better. You have to make a start somewhere.

Think about what you have been comfortable making before and try and top that. What is an adjacent possible to you now? Are you able to produce a three page comic that works? Could you complete a 10-page comic? Or maybe you've done many 10 page comics, but the stories weren't so great. Can your write 10 great pages? What are you able to do well now? What other possibilities does this lead to?


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