i love creativity, and in particular have always had a lot of interest in how change and newness come in organisations, in my own life, in communities i am part of, in society, in traditions and in church. the series of talks i gave at breakout were really on this theme come at through the lens of the prophets, and prophecy. but i thought i'd pick up on a few of the ideas i touched on and distill them down into blog sized bites (or should that be bite sized blogs?!). the first is actually the very last thing i spoke about which never got recorded on the talks because i forgot to press play on the recorder after the last discussion time!...
stephen johnson in his book where good ideas come from talks about ‘the adjacent possible’. he suggests that at any given moment (he uses evolution as an example) certain possiblities exist as a next step or door that it’s possible to go through.
The adjacent possible is a kind of shadow future, hovering on the edges of the present state of things, a mapof all the ways in which the present can re-invent itself.
people tend to think of innovation or newness as coming from nowhere - a eureka moment, makng a great leap but actually the edges of possibility are more finite. but once you go through the door at the edge of what's possible, there is a room with another series of doors and so on. change and possibilities are quickly multiplied.
The strange and beautiful truth aboput the adjacent possible is that its boundaries grow as you explore those boundaries. Each new combination ushers new combinations into the adjacent possible.
so he says that out of the priomordial soup it was inconceivable that a sunflower would appear before a lot of prior possibles have taken place. i think this is a very helpful metaphor. johnson suggests it’s also why you get what is known as the multiple - several people come up with the same idea at the same time in different parts of the world. the advent of communication technology with its always on connectivity has heightened that possibility.
applying this concept of change and newness to the recent developments in mission in the western world is quite interesting. i'm not sure exactly how you would plot it but in my own story the doors went something like relational youth ministry - stories of cross cultural mission - seeing our own culture (postmodern) as a mission context - alt worship - emerging church - fresh expressions - missional communities - new monasticism - pioneering etc... that all makes it look very linear which it's not. but my point about it is twofold i suppose. one is that at this moment there is an incredible amount of adjacent possiblities that just were not there twenty five years ago and that's easy to forget! and secondly it's helped me understand sociologically why multiples have happened - things emerging in several places in the world at the same sort of time.
it is also worth pondering that some adjacent possibles break open a huge new set of possibilities. in terms of the line above, from my point of view the adjacent possible of making a connection between insights from cross cultural mission overseas in relation to our own context was the adjacent possible that i am still in many ways exploring and has led to almost every innovation or change i have been involved in since.
so what adjacent possibles are you standing on the threshold of?! go and push through them...
the whole of stephen johnson's book is excellent - i read it back in july but it's indicative of my life that i haven't reviewed it yet. the other notion i particularly liked is that of the slow hunch - ideas have often been around for quite a long time at the back of the mind percolating away. i actually blogged about this before i had read the book... there's a good ted talk with stepehn johnson, and an interesting guardian article that expands on the adjacent possible.