Editor’s Note: This is a continuation of our core conversations on Charlie’s book Start Finishing. In our last conversation, Jenn Labin talked about some practices to help you work through distractions. In today’s conversation, Larry Robertson talks about how to see your edge, come to your edge, and use your edge to define your adjacent possible.
While there are countless gifts to be received from Charlie Gilkey’s Start Finishing, chief among them is its blunt honesty. One of the things Charlie frankly addresses is the reality of uncertainty. As he teaches you the valuable concepts and tools of the Start Finishing approach to project management, he never promises that those things will somehow magically make uncertainty go away. That’s actually a good thing.
To truly do your “best work” you need a degree of uncertainty in your world. As scary as it might seem at first, uncertainty is really a sign that opportunity and possibility are somewhere nearby. (Tweet this.)
But to uncover those gems, you must learn to see the edge, come to the edge, and use the edge to define the adjacent possible.
Seeing Your Edge
Though we are often unaware of them, we all have borders around us, boundaries defined by the things we know and the way we do what we do. I call them edges.
While we may treat edges as permanent, they are inherently temporary. Rather than viewing them as bricks and mortar, think of them as chalk lines, like the ones you find on a baseball diamond or a soccer field. We may give such borders lots of authority, but in truth, we repeatedly choose whether we keep reinforcing our edges.
Anything that lies beyond our edges feels scary. Beyond our edges are things we don’t yet know. But the “unfamiliar” and the “possible” are one in the same. The fear we feel comes from imagining that crossing over the edge requires actions and risk akin to stepping off a cliff. The truth is that such moves, when thoughtfully taken, are more like stepping off a curb.
Our tendency is to see any breakthrough or pursuit of our best work as requiring some massive, moon-shot leap from where we are to where we want to be — another way we reinforce our false fears about the edge.
That thought simply isn’t true.
All advancement, all innovation, all creativity is the result of a gradual progression and a measured accumulation of smaller ideas and step-by-step progress. It only looks like a moon leap in the rearview mirror.
This is precisely what Start Finishing reveals and then helps you to see, through concepts like the Five Keys to Unlocking Your Best Work, the Start Finishing version of SMART goal setting, and the many ways it guides you to break down a task into doable parts.
But before you can employ the valuable insights of Start Finishing, you have to come to your edge.
It’s unavoidable, because it’s only in coming to our edges that we discover real possibility and those places where our best work can happen. And it’s only by repeatedly making that journey to the edge, and by making those forays a habit, that we can regularly access the possibility that fuels our best work.
Coming to Your Edge
In my book The Language of Man: Learning to Speak Creativity, I introduce the idea of the edge. With it, I also give insights and lessons from some of the most creative people on the planet about how to come to your edge and cross over it. One of my favorite tools for doing so is one of the simplest: the 3 Acts of Creation.
The 3 Acts of Creation first and foremost remind you that every action you take in the direction of your best work is a choice. Choice is the first act. Even not making a choice is a choice!
What Start Finishing does so well is to guide you in how to make such choices, ones that raise the likelihood of realizing your best work. But more importantly, Start Finishing makes you conscious of choice in general, to see that every day is full of choices — ones that can take you beyond your edges or bind you up within them.
The second Act of Creation is Reaction. Whenever we make a choice, we’ve already assumed an outcome somewhere in our brains. But the truth is that we can’t really know for sure what will happen when we make a choice. What we can do is prepare to react with intention, whatever comes our way.
Knowing what matters to you most is the best foundation for doing this. Instead of overreacting to the immediate outcome of your choice, especially if the outcome is unexpected or undesired, you start to react to more outcomes in a way that fits who you are and where you want to go.
Start Finishing helps you establish that all-important foundation of what matters, so that you can use reaction as a springboard, rather than a stop sign, on your way to realizing your best work.
The third Act of Creation is Improvisation. It directly acknowledges that we can’t know anything with absolute certainty — a fact increasingly true in a world now more volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous than it has ever been.
“But I can’t improvise!” you may be screaming in your head. Not true. That’s just your lack of practice at coming to the edge talking.
The skill of improvising isn’t genetic. It’s born and shaped through the habit of regularly coming to your edges and putting a toe over them to explore what’s possible.
And improvisation is not nearly as hard as you might think. Improvisation is simply being open and willing to explore. It’s about thinking more often in asking questions than in pursuing answers.
(Pro Tip: Improvisation is at its best and far easier to do when you do it with others. Think: Start Finishing’s idea of the Success Pack.)
Tapping into Your Adjacent Possible
The 3 Acts of Creation are one of the many insights that appear as patterns across the most accomplished and creative people. Regardless of sector, time, or position — including more than five dozen MacArthur Fellows, winners of the so-called Genius Award for creativity — successful and creative people make choices, react to those choices, and improvise after making the choices.
Those 3 Acts aim to get you into that zone that MacArthur Fellow, scientist, and serial entrepreneur Stu Kauffman calls “the adjacent possible” — the very zone where your best work is waiting for you.
The adjacent possible is a simple yet deeply powerful concept. It says that every time you venture even slightly beyond your edges, you can’t help but discover something new.
Something earth-shatteringly or breakthrough new? Not usually in any single foray into the adjacent, Stu says. But going beyond your edges gets you in the practice of regularly venturing into that zone where things “new to you” reside. The more you go there, the more you see and the more adept you become at seeing the possible.
Coming back from lands unfamiliar turns out to be just as lucrative, Stu says, because each time you return to your “known zone” (as I like to call it), you can’t help but see what you knew before in a new way.
But there’s a third and most powerful part of the adjacent possible.
The more you come to your edges, employing the lessons of Start Finishing and the 3 Acts as you do, the more you expand the possible beyond what originally existed either in your known zone or beyond it.
It’s like a super power that helps you find and fuel your best work, and it’s one you control.
Most promising of all, rather than existing in some far away place or time, the possible resides right next to where you are now. If you want to start finishing your best work, it’s time to come to your edge, have a look, and take a step over it.
Want more information? Start Finishing, the book that kicked off all of these Core Conversations, is your deeper dive into all aspects of how to turn your ideas into projects, and how to start finishing your best work.