Putting a ‘dent a in the universe’ is the goal of many mission-driven ventures. Those that succeed will create the new normals for a more vibrant, sustainable, and inclusive future. At Possibilian, we call them transformative ventures.
Seeking and achieving transformative impact is what we are most interested in. It’s also different than achieving incremental improvements, regardless of how valuable they might be.
To bring more colour to the differences, and what we’re most excited about in the years ahead, we’re pleased to share our perspective on:
Where does transformative potential comes from?
What are the current hotspots for transformative potential?
What do transformative ventures look like?
How can ventures manage for transformative outcomes?
At Possibilian we are interested in how ventures can create a better future, a future that is more vibrant, prosperous, and sustainable. In this post, we’re highlighting a few areas where we see extraordinary opportunity for progress in the next few years as we emerge from the pandemic. While these overlap with existing transition pathways, and will evolve over time, they focus in on certain characteristics of the types of innovations we think have particular momentum and potential for transformative impact.
We call them Transformation Hotspots
Human Centred Social Infrastructure: Helping everyone and each other thrive.
Smart Food: Engaging, local, and sustainable food and agriculture.
Resilient Supply: Resilient supply chains and sustainable production ecosystems.
Collective Culture: Vibrant, participatory, cultural resurgence.
Boundless Collaboration: Working better, together, beyond boundaries.
Integrated Decarbonization: Building back, better, through decarbonization.
Embedded Interdependence: Crypto and cooperative inspired product, services, and systems.
Human Centred Social Infrastructure
Social infrastructure from education and healthcare to employment and social security, have all gone through dramatic shocks as a result of the pandemic. Old approaches and assumptions have been broken and bypassed, creating space for new solutions to emerge, particularly solutions that enable and put people first, remove barriers, and focus on the outcomes of their participants.
Catalysts: Regulatory resets; experiences of vulnerability; government funding.
Enabling Innovation Platforms: Cloud, Mobile Connected Devices, Frictionless Value Transfer
Existing Example:MeetFrank keyed in on the power imbalance between employees and employers, and uses technology to enable a new behavior that they believe can help democratize the job market.
Dramatic shifts in daily habits and lifestyles during the pandemic have meant more people are eating at home, often with limited supplies, while governments have had to respond to food crises among the most vulnerable. Collectively we are reconnecting with the importance of food. This connection will likely spur accelerated innovation around simple, smart, and sustainable food production, distribution, preparation, and delivery, with consumers expecting better quality and experiences, and governments investing in greater food security within their borders and for the most vulnerable.
Catalysts: Forced experience of prolonged home-cooking and staying at home; government investment in food security.
Enabling Innovation Platforms: AI, Robotics, DNA Sequencing
Existing Example:Jow is an example that shifts the behavior of grocery shopping to simply swiping and selecting simple, delicious and nutritious meals, making home-cooking easier, healthier, and fun.
Disruptions in supply-chains during the pandemic has raised the value in resiliency over efficiency. Buyers everywhere will be more conscious of ensuring essentials are always available. Part of that will include a rise in ‘good-enough’ solutions as well as enhanced use of intelligence and automation to ensure sufficient buffers, redundancy, and responsiveness.
Catalysts: Shift in procurement policy and practices across government, corporate, consumer.
Enabling Innovation Platforms: 3D Printing, Autonomous Mobility, Robotics, Frictionless Value Transfer
Existing Example:ProducePay grew out of the desire to build trust in every transaction, leveraging market intelligence and financing to create a stronger and more resilient produce supply chain.
The COVID-19 pandemic is a profound collective experience, shared by all of humanity. That experience will undoubtedly be reflected in our art and culture. Our need to process that experience, reflect on life, and reconnect with each other will intersect with new media and technologies to spark a wave of innovation in media, entertainment, gaming and culture, including how we create and value it.
Catalysts: The pandemic experience; shift in how people value connection and culture.
Enabling Innovation Platforms: Mobile Connected Devices, Blockchain, Cloud
Existing Example:Otis believe that culture is a new asset, democratizing ownership of fresh, emerging cultural assets like collectible skateboard designs, sneakers, comic books, and art.
Mass physical-distancing forced organizations to adopt remote collaboration and coordination technologies. In addition to breaking down past limitations, as these technologies and practices persist, new opportunities for cost-savings, efficiency, and coordination will emerge alongside innovations that break down barriers in participation based on who and where people are.
Catalysts: Mass experience of remote work; blurring of work and social interaction experiences.
Enabling Innovation Platforms: Cloud, AI, Mobile Connected Devices.
Existing Example:Hopin aims to create better connections and a better planet by using online technology to re-envision how people can come together for offline, online, and hybrid events.
As organizations and individuals have heightened appreciation for our individual and systemic vulnerabilities there will increased acceptance and interest in our systems being more resilient. This creates and opening for the technologies and practices of the crypto and cooperative movements to become embedded in products, organizations, and systems across society.
Catalysts: Systemic failures from unaddressed externalities; recognition of interconnectedness; value of resiliency;
Enabling Innovation Platforms: Blockchain, Frictionless Value Transfer, IoT, AI
Existing Example: Leap connects distributed energy resources and owners of all types with grid operators through an energy marketplace that facilitates dynamic demand response.
The pandemic provides a working example of the types systemic shocks and risks of inaction that have been feared from the climate crisis. As governments around the world introduce stimulus to stabilize and restart local economies, decarbonization solutions that also create jobs, improve wellbeing, increase resiliency and facilitate future infrastructure will have heightened interest.
Catalysts: Government stimulus; pandemic experience makes climate crisis implications more real.
Enabling Innovation Platforms: Energy Storage, Autonomous Mobility, IOT, AI
Existing Example:Wren helps consumers live carbon neutral through a simple monthly subscription, which gets invested in measurable, community-based decarbonization activities.
Venturing on the frontiers is about the early stages of taking on big challenges. It’s a space where conventional models to planning and management prove ineffective. It’s the place where entrepeneurs trust their ‘gut’ and face the challenges with an unrelenting push forward. And it’s the place from which the greatest change can come about.
I’ve been tapping my own experience, researching into systems science and talking with some of North America’s leading venture investors who are themselves pushing the frontiers. Through all of that I’ve emerged with an understanding that I’ve tried to capture to the right. Essentially it describes a venture as a set of spaces (‘founding agreement‘ which gives rise to a ‘magic box‘ which operates within certain ‘realms of relevance‘). Venturing then is the process of ‘framing‘ those spaces, ‘planning’ immediate action, and ‘connecting‘ to get things done and evolve the spaces. Collectively that led me to the following set of principles for venturing on the frontiers:
Create spaces for things to happen
Make it simple and accessible
Tend to connections and connecting
I’ve published the image under a creative commons license so please feel free to use and build from it accordingly. And as always, this is but a snapshot of understanding and bound to evolve… so please do get in touch with your reflections, experiences, and suggestions.
I’ll publish future posts on the implications for ventures and venture investors who are pushing the frontiers. Don’t expect magic bullets, but rather a prompting of some productive questions. If anything this has reminded me is that there are no answers, only questions… and asking the right ones can make all the difference.
One of the surprising things that I came out of my latest exploration into the frontiers of venturing and venture investing is a set of definitions. I’m actually not one that likes to debate definitions ad infinitum but I found I needed to clarify things to be able to have meaningful conversations going forward. So here, is what I’ve come up with… for now (I’ll keep updating this definitions as the evolve so feel free to check-back or link here for reference).
Venture: An agreement among people to do things in service of a purpose and according to a set of values.
Venturing: The process of creating and evolving a venture.
Venturer: A person primarily involved in or responsible for venturing.
Operator: A person primarily involved in or responsible for operating a venture.
Entrepreneur: A venturer that also carries primary responsibility for operating a venture.
Frontiers of venturing: The effective limit of conventional approaches to venturing.
Frontiers of venture investing: Investing in ventures that are on the frontiers.
The frontiers of venturing are the places where conventional venturing and planning approaches become least effective. It is the effective limit of conventional approaches to venturing that define the edge of the frontier with the deepest depths of the frontier being the pre-concept stage of a systemically focused venture.
Conventional approaches loose effectiveness the earlier a venture is in the development phase because of increasing ambiguity. The less that is known the harder it is to do linear modeling and planning. Choices made continually reduce ambiguity as the venture moves along the development and into the realm where conventional planning approaches can be effectively used.
On the depth axis, the more systemic the purpose, the greater the complexity. As the system changes, so will the problems and opportunities being addressed as will the community addressing those challenges and opportunities. The interrelatedness of planning decisions and planning context can be an all consuming black-hole. The more you are trying to shake things up, the less you know how things are going to shake out.
While all ventures face a degree of ambiguity, the depth of your foray into the frontiers depends on the depth of complex ambiguity being taken on – a function of complexity and abmiguity. Conventionally, managing this is accomplished either through blind faith in the entrepreneur and management team or by reducing the complex ambiguity by advancing the planning horizon and responding to situational opportunities and problems. Taking the latter approach often serves to reduce near-term operational risk but also severely limits or eliminates the potential for achieving systemic level impacts, while the former approach is limited by the abilities of the entrepreneur/management team in the unique situation of this specific venture. Neither option suggest even modest probabilities of success particularly at the depths of the frontier… which describes the venturing and venture investing community as it currently operates.