Promisingness is a fascinating concept. It was introduced directly within Surpassing Ourselves, a book on the nature of expertise by Carl Bereiter and Marlene Scardamalia. They describe our sense for the promisingness of an idea as a critical element of creativity. When working on a novel problem, being able to select the most promising of our many possible paths is what, in the long-run, leads to coherent, accretive creativity.

In other words, when we use creativity as a main constraint for decision making, we often end-up with a series of disconnected, incoherent ideas. When we use promisingness as a main constraint for decision making, we are more likely to find creativity as an emergent quality of our work. 

Promisingness is reflected in Sternberg’s ideas of successful intelligence, which recognizes intelligence as our ability to successfully navigate the world around us, following one promising idea to the next. We can also interpret Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences as an opportunity to recognize each form of intelligence as a relatively more or less promising starting point for students to understand the world. Promisingness can even describe Csikszentmihalyi's concept of flow: when we are operating at the edge of our competence, yet tackling a challenge that is just within the reach of our skill and ability, we thrive on the energy we get while following a promising new direction.

This simple concept can describe the relative follow-on success of serial entrepreneurs: after you’ve navigated the murky uncertainty of starting and building a company, you either develop an ability to recognize promising ideas or directions or you fail. Promisingness also provides a lens to describe the positive side of dating - we quickly judge our compatibility with a new person based on years of experiences with completely different people, a complex calculus that results in a vague sense of promisingness (which we can interpret as chemistry, interest, or attraction).

Promisingness reminds me of several ideas in Ed Catmull’s book, Creativity Inc., including the need to nurture and protect the “ugly babies” of new ideas (so that they have the opportunity to mature and realize their potential), and the value of decisiveness (since it enables you to pursue that direction and more quickly understanding if the direction is promising or not). It also reminds me of many of the qualities in Shane Snow’s book, Smartcuts, including the ability to read the waves in your industry (finding the most promising times to catch them), and relying on rapid feedback loops of learning (within which you hone your ability to judge promisingness). In fact, this idea can be a lens through which to interpret a lot of different examples of success. 

I think that one of the driving forces behind my exploratory writing is to explore promisingness with regard to the future of education and learning. These mini deep dives into variety of different topics are my way to poke around at these promising directions and explore what they may mean. 

What do you see as some of the most promising new ideas or trends in your work?

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