It is a term originally coined by Stuart Kauffman, a brilliant complexity theorist. Basically, when someone comes up with a new idea, technology or platform of some kind, it makes a whole other set of new ideas imaginable for the first time. It says that part of the process of innovation comes from the consumer side of the equation. You can invent the telephone and put it out in the world and say, “This would be fantastic for you playing cello on one end and someone else listening to you playing cello on the other end,” but it gets out into the world and people start using it. They say, “That would be a terrible way of using the telephone. But it is really great for calling my grandmother.” That is always the case with technology when it gets unleashed into the world. People end up pushing it in directions that the inventors never dreamed of.
For example, Thomas Edison invented the phonograph to send audio letters, and Alexander Graham Bell intended for people to use the telephone to listen to live orchestra music. What does this say about innovation and unintended consequences?
So, however smart you may be, there is no way to invent air conditioning in the 1650s. You just can’t do it. There are too many fundamental ideas about physics, industrial engineering and electricity that just aren’t understood yet. There is no way to have that breakthrough. But what happens over the course of history is that as someone understands one thing and if someone else understands another thing certain ideas, inventions or technologies become thinkable. They become part of what Kauffman calls the “adjacent possible.
So in essence, you realize that the future is limitless and anything is truly possible if you will only free your mind. Never be discouraged, your ideas and imagination will definitely come true.