What if...?

This article originally appeared in Thinking Bigger Media, April 7, 2017, Vol. 26 Issue 4. 


Two of the most powerful words in the English language are usually uttered as a question that includes a moment of pause: “What if?”

These words signal a constant questioning that can capture hearts, minds and an attention or ability to think outside the box. The real source of their power is the permission they grant to imagine things differently.

As the CEO of TechAccel, a technology co-development partner with a focus on innovation in the agriculture, animal health and food sectors, I find that “what if?” is a foundational expression to our business model. These words invite an open mind, encourage innovation, new insights and unseen connections—like spark to kindling.

In our business model, we acquire a product or technology, then undertake the research and development necessary to advance the science, to “de-risk” it and push it closer to a marketable, commercially-viable product or service.  We identify new ways of doing things and uncover and follow an executable path.

It often is a “what if?” moment that leads us to take a technology that works in one field and apply that concept to another,  not necessarily related field. One recent example occurred with a partner who owned a proprietary technology that was able to tweak a plant’s natural growth to produce more of a certain type of enzyme. That resulted in a plant with more nutrition.

At first glance, this sounds great. But a “what if?” line of thinking could help you look for further uses: What if we could trigger this in other plants? What if this technique could trigger different results? Looking for adjacent opportunities when moving a concept to market is something that we execute as a regular practice.

Unfortunately,  “what if?” thinking doesn’t always go your way. Sometimes an idea just doesn’t work and you may have to spend time and money to realize that. The beauty, however, lies in framing that experience: You didn’t waste your investment; you just purchased additional knowledge with it.

Another way we use “what if?” thinking is in applying technology and innovations to completely new scenarios. To continue the example from above, maybe that enzyme in development isn’t nutritious but instead is applicable as a great dye. Perhaps it’s able to absorb another chemical, or maybe it has unique biomass properties.

This is how “what if” thinking can lead to new opportunities. Just as it works in science and technology, it also can work when dealing with the nuts and bolts of any business deal: What if we extended the term of the deal? What if we adjusted the royalty payment structure?

A willingness to explore and a nimble culture means that opportunities exist if you are willing to look.  Applying this philosophy may take some getting used to, as learning how to share, listen, contribute, support, dig, research and evaluate is hard work. But it is often rewarding.

If you’re willing to encourage imagination, free-spirited conversation and a new depth of engagement, go ahead and give this line of thinking a shot. Why not?

Ah, but that’s another pair of powerful words for another day.

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