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The Adjacent Possible

July 22, 2020

This is an excerpt from Charlie O’ Donnell’s weekly newsletter on 7/20. After I read it, 2 thoughts crossed my mind:

  • I have definitely thought about this but never really knew it had a name
  • I need to post this on my website, so I can reference it in the future

So here goes. Thanks Charlie!

Did you know you have something called Bitchicken to thank for the added levels of security on all your Zoom calls?

That’s what I learned the other day interviewing Max Khron, co-founder of Keybase. Back when General Assembly was a co-working space, he and his co-founder Chris Coyne used to mess around with various startup ideas. They got into bitcoin and came up with an idea for a game:

“Bitchicken is a math-based (of course!) game that relies on bids from players. It collects five bids, in the form of bitcoins, from different players. The winner is the person who bids the closest to 25 percent above the average. This person receives the majority of the payout: 98 percent. The team at Bitchicken collects a 1.9 percent share, leaving the other players to split the remaining 0.1 percent among them as proof that their bids were processed.”

Part of the problem with Bitchicken, however, was actually building it in a safe and secure manner. Passing bitcoin around required trust and security—and when the team went to go fix those issues using open source software, they realized that they couldn’t even be sure that the versions of the software they were getting were from the right sources. In general, trust and security across transfers of everything from video to bitcoin weren’t easy—and that’s where they came up with the idea for Keybase, which they recently sold to Zoom.

The lesson here is that sometimes, the idea you eventually wind up with doesn’t come to you until you start moving on another problem. It’s what Steven Johnson calls “the adjacent possible”—the thing that you get to only by arriving at an initial, interim destination.

That’s why I’m excited about no-code and other similar hacks to get something out there. It allows founders to move forward on an idea, which might wind up speeding up their path to something bigger

Referencing the Steven Johnson article mentioned above, there is a bit more clarity on the definition of Adjacent Possible

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 strange and beautiful truth about the adjacent possible is that its boundaries grow as you explore them. Each new combination opens up the possibility of other new combinations.

Sounds like a pretty good tool in developing a framework or rubric for working on a problem.