The Adjacent Possible Keynote

Embracing Uncertainty: Making Room for the Adjacent Possible (YES!!!)

When something changes or evolves and you decide something new based on those changes, that decision opens up another set of possibilities that wouldn’t have been available before. That new set of possibilities is called the adjacent possible, and what is great about it is that it ends up fueling even more creativity.

We are on the edge of another reality, and that reality is just a decision away. The more creative we are, the more choices we open up for ourselves to decide between and thus the more possibilities we gain access to. When something changes or evolves and you decide something new based on those changes, that decision opens up another set of possibilities that wouldn’t have been available before. That new set of possibilities is called the adjacent possible, and it is amazing because it further fuels more creativity. Creativity is about being open to the mystery of surprises to fully access your unknown potential. Life is about continually pursuing the mystery of that adjacent possible, not solving it. By making room for surprise, we build our sense of self trust, develop our instinct, and find comfort in the questions instead of always seeking answers.


Why this idea matters …

I have always loved to help people believe in themselves and have trust in themselves. Throughout my life, I was drawn to the outcasts who were otherwise isolated, and guided them to a place of deep healing. Throughout my own journey there were times fear would stop me and I didn’t believe in myself, and every time I stepped into something new my self doubt would kick in. I eventually learned that part of being called to something involves grappling with fear and the perils of perfectionism. Now I know that it is exactly at my greatest moments of self doubt that I can face myself authentically, push the limits of my edge, and gain self trust. I help other people implement this idea in their lives, and am passionate about sharing it with an even wider audience because I have lived, and continue to witness, its true healing potential. 


How is this a new idea …

Many revolutions are old ideas in new contexts. This is about bringing an older idea from evolutionary biology, the adjacent possible, to a new context: creativity. Life is about continually pursuing the mystery of the adjacent possible, not solving it. Accessing the mysterious is aliveness, and this idea is about thriving in the questions instead of settling for answers. The adjacent possible is another way to understand embracing surprise and honing in on stepping into the unknown. This idea taps into something vital that is not being seen or heard.

Nancy Hillis’ Bio

Nancy Hillis, MD is an abstract artist, Stanford trained psychiatrist and author of the best-selling self-help book The Artist’s Journey: Bold Strokes To Spark Creativity. Nancy guides artists to create their deepest, most authentic art through her signature approach, which combines art and psychiatry. She’s helped thousands of artists transform their work from the inside out, operating from the conviction that artistic creation has as much to do with psychology as it does with paint and canvas.

Nancy studied under the renowned psychiatrist, Irvin Yalom, MD at Stanford and has been featured in Inc. magazine and The New York Observer. BookAuthority named her book The Artist’s Journey as one of the top 100 creativity books of all time. Nancy lives in Santa Cruz, California and enjoys conversations on art, science and the generation of novelty in the universe with her partner, physicist Bruce Sawhill, Ph.D. and listening to her daughter Kimberly sing Puccini’s “O Mio Babbino Caro” and other operatic arias.

A fun fact about Nancy: “I play the cello. I started learning cello when I was 50. I love the warm, soulful sound and the fact that the cello is literally held near one’s heart. Why do I play the cello? Because I want to. I play it for its own sake.”

Awards for Nancy

  • Best selling author, The Artist’s Journey
  • BookAuthority names The Artist’s Journey as “One of the top 100 creativity books of all time”
  • Featured in Inc. magazine, The New York Observee
  • Best online art classes of 2019:
  • Reader’s Favorite International Book Award, Silver Medal, Arts & Photography

Creativity relies upon the constraint of decision. When you make a decision you open up the next possibility, and without making that decision, reality wouldn’t have unfolded in that way.

The adjacent possible is the intersection of creativity and science – it is the science behind creativity. Trust yourself enough to use your creativity. We often refuse to trust our creative instinct or think it’s too late to try something new. Self doubt stifles us and we get stuck in a cycle of second guessing ourselves.

You must keep forging ahead anyway through self doubt, because at the moment of your greatest self doubt you get to face yourself head on. We must acquaint ourselves with that edge, because facing difficult moments enables us to develop more self trust. Without this idea, we would never fully embrace our creative potential and the world would be less exciting.

 Get your copy of Nancy's books!