One of the things that I love about learning is that it can come in so many forms. I’ve found that engaging with some resources and experiences prove immediately applicable in the work of social problem-solving, while with others it is not clear what the connections or uses are or will be. Steve Johnson calls this latter set of ideas and experiences the “adjacent possible,” the potential and serendipity created when you notice and connect the unlikely. I think the power of the adjacent possible is in how it can open up our apertures to new and different ways of seeing and understanding the world, and thus new and different ways of being and doing.
So, as 2017 is coming to a close, I thought I’d share a little gift of the adjacent possible with all those who might be interested or in need! Here are 18 resources that opened my eyes and mind to new ways of thinking – about history, architecture, art, emotions, people, culture, beauty, nature, and much more -- this past year. May they help you have a 2018 filled with great (and adjacent) possibilities!
Books - It’s amazing how non-fiction can open up new understandings of the world. Four of the best books I read in 2017 did just this:
1. Born a Crime: Stories From a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah. There are a lot of books about Apartheid, but Trevor Noah’s is an amazing mix of memoir and history, humor and tragedy. I read it while traveling in South Africa, but my dad recommends listening to the audiobook, which Noah reads, and either way, you’ll walk away understanding the deep impact of Apartheid era policies on people, families, and communities in a whole new way.
2. Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman by Lindy West. This book of essays by Lindy West is both personal and political. While she is more well-known for her feminist writing, I found the essays that focused on the experiences of being fat (her term of choice) and the assumptions and judgments made about fat people, and particularly fat women, as they relate to everything from how our world’s designed to desirability, femininity, and morality.
3. March Trilogy by Congressman John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell. While roadtripping across the American South, I visited a number of historic sites connected to the civil rights movement. At the MLK Jr. Historic site gift shop, I purchased this three-graphic novel set. Congressman Lewis’s story– both in terms of his own self-actualization, experiences, and sense of responsibility in sharing civil rights history with new generations is inspiring and heartbreaking and the form and visuals are beautiful.
4. Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond. Desmond’s work has been groundbreaking in that he is one of the first academics to study the impact of eviction, but what is particularly profound about this book is how he illustrates those impacts through the stories of real people based on his years of sociological research and observation in Milwaukee.
Articles & Blog Posts -- Short blog posts with big questions and big assertions about the contemporary world and the personal work we each need to do in it are what resonated with me in 2017.
5. Leaders: What do you want to BE? By Dr. Kathryn Scanland via LinkedIn.
6. Modern Laziness by Seth Godin via Seth’s Blog.
Podcasts -- One of the ways I learn best is by listening. This whole list could have been podcast episodes, but here are five favorites from the past year.
8. Hoover via The Memory Palace. Nate Dimeo is one of my favorite audio storytellers and he tells history in a unique and evocative way. In this 8-minute piece, he explicitly explores the heroism and failures of Herbert Hoover, and implicitly explores the relationship between power and empathy.
9. When 'Miss' Meant So Much More: How One Woman Fought Alabama — And Won via Code Switch. The politics of Alabama and the significant role that black women play in shaping it has been in the news a lot during the last month of this year. This is an amazing story about a less-widely known (at least today) civil and labor rights leader named Mary Hamilton and how she fought for the right of black people to be referred to in the same terms as their white counterparts (Miss, Mrs., and Mr.). It’s beautifully illustrated through oral history recordings collected by her friend, fellow civil rights and feminist activist, Sheila Michaels.
10. #3: How Questlove Learned to Love Silence via A Piece of Work with Abbi Jacobson. So, when I heard that artist and comedian Abbi Jacobson (Broad City) was doing a limited series on modern art I was so there. Art can be profound in sparking creativity, and trying to imagine the art described in this 23 minute episode (if you’re not familiar with it) is pretty amazing, especially because they are going behind the scenes in MOMA’s conservation lab to learn about monochromes.
11. Vanish via Criminal. What does it take to fake your own death and create a new life? I recommend treating that question as a thought experiment first, and then tuning into this great episode of one of my favorite podcasts.
Places & Experiences I am a big proponent of experiential learning! Getting out of town or exploring new places at home can both inspire new possibilities.
12. Judisches Museum Berlin. If you find yourself in Germany, I implore you to visit the Jewish Museum of Berlin designed by Daniel Libeskind. While the collection is very interesting, the audio tour and design of the building are truly astonishing. I can honestly say it shifted my mindset about the thoughts and feelings that modern architecture can illicit.
13. Big Bend National Park, Texas. Like art, nature can have a profound and positive impact on mental health and our creative instincts. Though it is one of the hardest National Parks to reach in the lower 48, Big Bend is also well worth the trip. It has an enormous footprint which includes mountains, desert, and river canyons (it’s on the Rio Grande), and the visitor center has some really amazing history about the border and the ever evolving relationship between the people of Southwest Texas and Mexico.
14. Takashi Murakami: The Octopus Eats Its Own Leg, Exhibit at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago. This is the only thing on the list that you unfortunately won’t be able to experience in person because the exhibit closed in September, but there is a monograph of it and if you have access to an large-scale printer, you could attempt to recreate some of the experience! All I knew about Murakami was his cartoonish images and collaboration with Kanye West. What I learned was so much more about process, politics, humor while experiencing something truly aesthetically original, energizing, and immersive.
15. U-Street: Go-go, the Heartbeat of DC Self-Guided Walking Tour via Detour. I’m a big fan of the self-guided audio walking tours available on the Detour App and I’m a big proponent of being a tourist in your own hometown. Taking a self-guided walking tour in a neighborhood I know very well revealed all sorts of things I’d never noticed, overlooked, or never known. Give this one a try if you’re in DC, or check out one in your home town. Detour offers tours in many major American cities and some international ones. If you use this link sign up, you’ll get your first tour for free: http://app.detour.com/xmrq/eMPZL5HaGD
16. Touring Johannesburg’s Graffiti with Jo Buitendach. When I read that there was an anthropologist in Joburg who did tours of the city’s vibrant graffiti and street art scene, I knew I had to go. I ended up doing a private tour with Jo, and she showed me amazing art (much of which is splashed across this website), shared fascinating history and insights on politics, and introduced me to a couple of graffiti artists who were hard at work on new pieces.
17. Leading for Creativity Cards -- Julie McClements created these cards as part of her final project in an IdeoU class on leading for creativity. Love their elegant design, and the useful nudges they encourage. Since she and IDEO have made them available, I thought I'd help spread the word!
18. Redistricted Comics -- ReDistricted is an online comics anthology focused on lesser-known historical stories about Washington, DC. I stumbled upon it when I was doing some research on the history of DC’s graffiti scene and have been checking in every time they release a new comic. A very cool form of local storytelling.