Embrace the Adjacent Possible

Sometimes, I feel like innovation in education is happening too slowly; yet, each and every day, I find amazing and innovative ideas on Twitter and from educational blogs. All around the world, educators are “innovating inside the box” and reimagining a better future for their students. Teachers and students are creating meaningful projects, taking authentic action, and sharing their learning in ways that were not possible a few years ago.

Scrolling through the responses to a recent tweet from George Couros, it’s exciting to see all the innovative approaches to professional learning – happening at schools around the globe!

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Many commonalities can be seen in the responses (EdCamps, Passion Projects, teacher-led workshops), but there were a lot of new ideas that I had never thought of…and now I’m excited to try! This tweet is a perfect example of why we, as educators, need to be connected – now more than ever! And we need to embrace all the adjacent possibilities available to us.


What is Adjacent Possibility? The term originates from biology, coined by the biologist Stuart Kauffman, and refers to the fact that, at any given time, only certain next steps and options are feasible, based on what has already occurred. Steven Johnson expanded this concept from biology to include implications for society, in his book Where Good Ideas Come From. Good ideas, as Johnson puts it, “are built out of a collection of existing parts,” both literally and metaphorically speaking.

How does this idea apply to education? Well, if we want to move forward and continue to innovate,  we need to build off of the work of each other and carefully consider what options are immediately available to us. The best way to come up with innovative ideas is to expand the perimeter of your potential – by enlarging your PLN and exposing yourself to as many ideas as possible! Then, take those ideas and repurpose, reimagine, and remix them. And then, most importantly, share them back out into the Edu-universe! That way, we can continue to access new possibilities and continue moving closer to an ideal learning environment. Your innovation can make other innovations possible! And the more you connect with others, the more you expand your own possibilities.

Instead of worrying about the distant future and all the ways that our current model of education needs to change, I will focus on today’s adjacent possibilities and all the many innovations that are available and possible right now. It’s okay if we don’t have a clear picture of what school may ultimately look like. As Steven Johnson writes:

The adjacent possible is a kind of shadow future, hovering on the edges of the present state of things, a map of all the ways in which the present can reinvent itself.

The future of education is dependent upon the possible combinations of ideas that we create and try and share with each other. Each new idea and iteration unlocks an infinite number of future adjacent possibilities. So, let your ideas circulate freely and collide together with new ideas in new ways – creating new versions of the future that were previously unimaginable.


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