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Adjacent Possible: The Year In Review
A look back at my 2022 and a few hints about new projects to come.
I thought it would make sense, given the time of year, to write a retrospective post looking back at my 2022—both in terms of what we’ve discussed here at Adjacent Possible, but also in terms of my other work. (We have a lot of new subscribers here at AP—welcome!—so this post should also be helpful in getting new arrivals up to speed.) If you’ve been reading this newsletter for a while now, you’ve been following some of the new projects I embarked on in 2022: like the TED Interview podcast, the Hidden Heroes series, and the new How Ideas Happen short-form audio series here on Substack. But for me, one of the most important developments of 2022 was my return to public speaking, after COVID pretty much demolished that part of my work over the preceding two years.
I don’t think I fully realized how much I had missed giving talks until they started up again. One of the things I really cherish about it is the range of conversations I get to have. I had a terrific trip to Brazil in September, doing talks about innovation in Sao Paulo and Porto Alegre. (That’s me onstage with Ada Lovelace in Porto Alegre in the image at the top of this post.) I did a more tech-focused talk for a conference in Warsaw on the Hidden Heroes project; I talked to a group of state legislators about complex decision-making, and did several events with health-related organizations about trends in life-expectancy. It’s wonderful to be able to do these sorts of events in person again, but the COVID-era has also made it a lot easier to organize virtual talks as well, which have their own distinct appeal.
(BTW, I don’t know why I haven’t mentioned this in earlier editions of the newsletter, but if any of you think I could be helpful as a speaker at your organization or at some event you’re putting together, please do drop me a line at email@example.com and I’ll connect you with my agents. We can figure out some kind of discount rate for Adjacent Possible regulars.)
For the new readers here, I went back through the 2022 archives, and assembled this list of the year’s most successful posts, in chronological order:
Change Of Seasons: Our ancestors may have shifted back and forth between different work routines and social structures, often in tune with the seasons. Would that be a better way to live?
We Need A Standard Unit Of Measure For Risk: More than three decades ago a Stanford professor proposed a uniform way of expressing your odds of dying from a specific cause: the micromort. It’s time it went mainstream.
The Slip-Box And The Passagenwerk: How do you turn hunches and reading notes into new ideas? (Paid subscribers only.)
Libraries, A Love Story: A journey to the Library Of Congress reminds me that tools for thought and the information commons do not just belong to the world of software.
The Blind Spot: 35 years ago, Apple’s CEO introduced a visionary new software product. But the real lesson from its launch is what he failed to see. (Paid subs only.)
The Thinking Path: Software “tools for thought” can amplify your thinking, but sometimes the secret to a creative workflow is as low-tech as it gets: going for a stroll.
The Forgotten Revolution: Why are the triumphs of public health and medicine a footnote in the history books?
In the new “How Ideas Happen” audio series, one of the most popular episodes was the joint episode with Atul Gawande and Linda Villarosa. People seemed really taken by the way Atul manages his writing schedule.
Speaking of Linda Villarosa, I noticed the other day that The New York Times announced its top ten books of the year, one of which was her extraordinary Under The Skin. I’d been tracking Linda’s work on health, inequality, and race for several years—she was one of the expert guests in the PBS version of Extra Life—so it’s been wonderful to see this book get the reception it deserves. But I was also struck by the fact that both Ed Yong’s An Immense World and Jennifer Egan’s The Candy House were also on that list. All three of them were featured guests on the TED Interview podcast this year. 30% of the top books of the year is a pretty good rate, I would say!
I also wanted to mention two developments that have received a lot of press attention in the past few weeks, both of which relate to earlier projects of mine. ChatGPT has been everywhere since its launch in late November, but almost all of the promise (and risk) embedded in the software was already visible in the original GPT-3 itself, which I wrote about in the Times Magazine in April. And the encouraging news about nuclear fusion coming from the National Ignition Facility at Livermore Labs will be familiar to those of you who watched our PBS series How We Got To Now. We shot the final sequence of the “Light” episode at NIF way back in 2013. It’s great to see that project starting to show real results.
What about the coming attractions for 2023? Right out of the gate, we have the publication date for the young reader edition of Extra Life next Tuesday, January 3. I’m also in the middle of writing a new book about which I will share more in the coming months. Suffice to say if you enjoyed Ghost Map or Enemy of All Mankind, you’ll enjoy this one. And finally, I’m going to start experimenting with writing longer-form essays —somewhere between an extended magazine article and a short book—that will be serialized here at Adjacent Possible. I’ll have more to share about this in the coming weeks, but I think there are some interesting new formats that are now viable thanks to platforms like Substack. I’m really excited to explore those possibilities with all of you in 2023 and beyond.
Thanks for reading—and best wishes for the new year.