This week, Professor Loreto discussed something I’d never even heard of before. He called it the ‘adjacent possible’. At face value, adjacent possible simply means the space right next to what we think/what is possible, which is one of those phenomena that simultaneously makes more sense and becomes more confusing the more you think about it.
Beyond my initial discomfort with this term, the discussion of innovation and creation that followed was truly thought provoking. It asked a lot of questions that one may not normally think to ask, such as what is innovation? How can you measure it? Why bother to measure it? Taking on the task of figuring out how humans foster innovation ended up being a fascinating topic. How is it possible model how humans magically concoct new ideas? How can you measure thoughts and ideas that do not yet exist? There is an infinite horizon of possibilities that lay just beyond what is already known.
I found that the games that Professor Loreto brought up in the lecture the most helpful for understanding this new phenomena, particularly the hands on experimentation with city planning that allowed participants to build up a city model with real time feedback, helping them to make decisions and use creativity to tackle problems.
One issue that caused me to pause, however, was how Loreto defined innovation and novelty. In the lecture, novelties were thought of as things that were made for the first time, such as a new song, new words, or new web pages. It was through this definition that innovation was modeled and from which the claim was made that innovation was on a steady decline. I find this definition problematic, for it forgets about all of the unpublished innovation that occurs on a daily basis. What about the innovation I used to make sure I could make it from class to my sports practice on time by stashing my bicycle at a junction in my path back to my dorm to get changed? What about the social innovation used by my friends to make sure they could figure out the right thing to say as they comforted a stressed and irrational peer? While yes, these thing all may have happened in the world before, it was the first time they happened in our lives in the context of existing on this campus as students. To me, innovation is coming up with solutions to daily problems that allow for increased efficiency or personal satisfaction in the outcome. To me, this definition would lend to a constant creation or existence of innovation, for it occurs every day in the small, interpersonal interactions that make up our lives. I believe that these small instances are what lead to the bigger innovations. For now, there is a bicycle stashed in a bush, but later, who knows? Maybe there’s a trolly car to take you around campus. It is these first steps, this daily mental training, that I believe leads to bigger innovation.