As someone who passionately believes in the “art of the possible,” I love imagining what the world might look like if a new idea is successful. What the world might look like if Elon Musk’s vision of underground tunnels for transportation were successful. What the world might look like if we had self-driving taxis in all of our major cities. Or what the world might look like if everyone could have a wireless computer in their hands that they carry with them everywhere they go. (Oh wait, that one has actually happened!) 

Think back to the world before the iPhone was launched in June 2007. It was a world dominated by devices that only made phone calls (crazy, right?) and maybe you could send text messages using the number keys as surrogates for letters. Nokia, the company that dominated the cell phone space at the time, had a 54% market share and over 1 billion customers. 

Now imagine the conversation at the executive level at Apple when they first discussed the idea for the iPhone and the substantial capital investment needed to develop and launch it. What do you think the preponderance of voices in the room sounded like? Do you think they focused on what might happen if the iPhone was successful, or on the reasons why an investment in an idea like this would not be successful? The good news is that we know at least one voice said, “Imagine if this is successful,” and the decision was made to invest in the development and launch of the iPhone.

Every room needs a voice saying: “Imagine if this is successful”

Imaging successIt’s easy to list the 10 reasons why an idea, or the investment in one, won’t be successful. They are often rational, concrete and pragmatic: the total addressable market (TAM), cost of client acquisition (CAC), lifetime value (LTV), the go-to-market strategy (GTM), time to profitability, technology or regulatory constraints and competition — the list can often be compelling and daunting to consider. 

For me, the “art of the possible,” is about focusing on one powerful thought: “Imagine if this is successful.” It’s about envisioning what success looks like if the idea actually materializes despite those potential roadblocks. Does it change the growth trajectory of our company, provide for social good or reinvent the customer experience? It’s a futuristic view and a belief that if we are successful, powerful transformation can and will happen. It’s about leaning into those elements that are truly game-changing — the strengths of the idea — and figuring out how to best mitigate the weaknesses to ensure success.

To truly transform, you need to place strategic bets

Transformation doesn’t just happen accidentally. It requires a conscious choice to take risks. Risks that are focused on placing strategic bets on the art of the possible. If your company is looking to transform its growth trajectory, incrementalism and line-extension won’t make the grade. You need to make smart bets on transformational ideas that, if successful, can chart a new path towards growth. 

More importantly, these strategic bets need time to evolve and equally need to be held to a different standard than existing business lines that may have taken decades to mature. At the same time, strategic bets don’t just have to be internal capital investments in ideas; they can also be realized through strategic investments in startup companies.

Strategic bets and the startup ecosystem

Investments in startups is one way of deploying capital to drive innovation that can help transform a company’s growth trajectory. As strategic investors, we believe in asking everyone to “imagine if this is successful.” We seek to make strategic bets on emerging and potentially disruptive startups that have the potential to transform our industry and the clients we serve. Enterprises that seek to drive transformational growth can leverage the startup ecosystem and invest in founders and companies that go beyond the "faster-better-cheaper" versions of what already exists today — and truly reflect the “art of the possible.”

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SEI Ventures team: Russ Kliman and Jennifer Ciotti