The Adjacent Possible

We are but a domino in a very long line of dominoes: a thousand things fall in place beforehand to let us be here. We ourselves make a thousand more things happen after us.

I first learned of “the adjacent possible” as it refers to living organisms.  These are the species whose existence allow other species to thrive: the elephants who preserve grasslands, sea otters who protect kelp forests for others by preying on sea urchins, even the bees who pollinate a greenbelt.

In a cultural ecosystem, we can consider people as individual organisms, doing work that allows others to thrive.

A city has a plan for its future, allowing the landowner to have an idea for her parcel, allowing the architect to design a building, allowing a contractor to build the structure, allowing people occupy the space.

Fit between every word of that simple story is a chance for each organism to optimize or throttle the adjacent possible.

I find inspiring those who consider thoughtfully these ripple effects.  They are the ones who act on the fact there is a longer chain of adjacent possibles beyond a single transaction. My favorite question is “And then what happens?”