20-80-100 and Adjacent Possibility

Katya and I were comparing notes last week about our blogs and the experience of blogging.

One of the biggest impacts blogging has had on me is that it forces me to develop thoughts that would normally remain 20% developed (in the form of casual observation) and form them into blog posts, which are about 80% fleshed out.  (Katya and I both agreed that we’d leave the 100% development of ideas to professional journalists like Ellen McGirt at Fast Company…there’s something nice about the leeway blogging gives you not to be perfect, and in fact I think it’s just this leeway that gives space for creativity.)

Think about the impact, over years, of systematically taking ideas that are partially developed and developing them fully.  Think about what you learn over time, both at the level of the individual idea – because the act of writing takes you places you didn’t know you’d go – and over time, from repeating this action every day.

I’ve been reading Steven Johnson’s Where Good Ideas Come From – I’ll review it fully when I’m finished, as it’s one of the most interesting books I’ve read this year.  The foundational idea in the book is that great ideas are formed in the “adjacent possible” space, the space that’s right at the edge of understanding of a particular problem you’re working to solve.  Breakthrough insights typically come from the reassembly and reconfiguration of existing ideas that are right at the edge of what you know and what you don’t know.

This feels 100% right to me.  Generosity Day, for example, grew out of my Generosity Experiment more than a year ago, coupled with the experience of helping create Search for the Obvious at Acumen Fund (really the brainchild of James Wu), along with the ongoing hunch I’d carried around for 14 months (and explored occasionally in other blog posts) that there was something bigger that could and should come of my personal exploration of generosity.  Generosity Day was sitting in my adjacent possible space, and it took the panel at Social Media Week and the ensuing discussion with the other panelists to crystallize the “aha!” moment – that we were three days away from Generosity Day 2011, we just didn’t know it.

And if that’s right, then what serious bloggers do every day is expand – inch by inch, bit by bit – their own space of adjacent possibility.

14 thoughts on “20-80-100 and Adjacent Possibility

  1. I was listening to NPR last Thursday and they announced that it was “Random Acts of Kindness Day” – 2/17 – I Googled it and found a Wiki site. Perhaps Generosity Day and RAK Day should be combined to achieve more momentum OR the entire week should be a feel good week with each day dedicated to acts of good will towards others that make us happy.

  2. Today’s post resonated with me. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about mental white space, how to create it, and why it is important. I recently rediscovered this great bit of insight from Dee Hock, the founder of VISA (and an important and too-little-known thinker): “The problem is never how to get new, innovative thoughts into your mind, but how to get old ones out. Every mind is a room packed with archaic furniture. You must get the old furniture of what you know, think, and believe out before anything new can get in. Make an empty space in any corner of your mind, and creativity will instantly fill it.” Your post reminds me of that.

  3. Thanks, Sasha. This is a great post, and that video is one of my all-time favorites. As you know, I’m in complete agreement that a chief value of blogging is the thinking it mandates – and the fact it puts us in conversation with other people who can stimulate new ideas. Over the weekend, I was listening to commentary on Studio 360’s book on creativity, Spark, and it reinforces your points. We get creative when we sit down and make ourselves write, not when we wait for inspiration. We get great ideas when we read and talk to others with great ideas. Not only do I agree with you about the beauty of adjacent possibility, I believe we should constantly make the space and time for it. Little else is so important to our work!

  4. Sasha-

    George Prince the founder of Synectics and the driving force of brainstorming or ideation as we know today said: “Great ideas are usually born drowning.” His research on regular corporate meetings as well as think tank sessions showed the best ideas were often no more than “5%” of a finished concept and were initially dismissed by most of those present. It was only when others “creative built” on the initial idea to get to “50% or so”, that the team could recognize the idea for its potential.

    As you rightfully stated in your article, experiencing a concept in the real world, whether of our own making or someone else, is usually the same opportunity to creatively build on an idea to craft one with much greater focus and impact.


  5. Sasha,

    Nice post! That’s one of the reasons why I love blogging, too! It gives me a space to “flesh out” my ideas. I knew that my blog would be a platform for my voice – I didn’t realize it would be such an effective vehicle for even developing my voice, as a professional.

    Awesome! Keep up the great work. Thanks, Jessica

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