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  • Audere Capital

The Unthinkable, the Unknowable, and the Unimaginable

"The trouble with every one of us is that we don't think enough…by THINK I mean take everything into consideration.”– IBM Founder Tom Watson

“People have got to start thinking.  And thinking is not to agree or disagree. That's voting.” ―Poet Robert Frost

As investors in advanced technologies, predicting future trends is a challenging exercise that stretches the limits of both logic and the imagination. With emerging sectors like artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, advanced manufacturing, next-generation communication, and cybersecurity, the landscape is evolving dynamically.   

In order to find the next big opportunity, we are constantly looking to think differently, to push back against conformity, and to challenge orthodoxy.  We want to shape our thinking in ways that enable us to identify unexpectedly unique insights, develop compelling investment theses, and drive breakout investment opportunities. 

"We want to shape our thinking in ways that enable us to identify unexpectedly unique insights, develop compelling investment theses, and drive breakout investment opportunities." 

Over the years, one way we’ve approached this goal is to dedicate time to considering questions and topics that are unthinkable, unknowable, and unimaginable.

The Unthinkable: Heretical Questions

"The unthinkable" refers to ideas that challenge existing and accepted norms or deeply rooted beliefs. Orthodoxy has a valuable place in the world, yet it can and often is abused. Many of the greatest innovations and most successful startups were launched by entrepreneurs who were either unaware of, or unconcerned with, accepted limitations.


Heretical questions, while uncomfortable and often controversial, often yield the most transformative innovations and present investment opportunities with outsized return potential. In advanced technologies, these debates generally center around concepts that fundamentally disrupt conventional ways of thinking and behaving when it comes to industries, capabilities, practices, or standards.


What are positions that everyone believes are true but are, in fact, probably not?  For instance: lemmings do not actually commit suicide by jumping off of cliffs. The one thing they are most known for is a complete hoax.  Likewise, what questions are important and yet so uncomfortable that they are not asked?


The Unknowable: Impossible Questions

“The unknowable" encompasses areas where our knowledge is limited, making it challenging to predict outcomes or understand the full implications. There is something uniquely satisfying in solving problems and answering questions.  Conversely, there is something frustrating about staring into the unknown and leaving with only a set of probabilities and incomplete solutions.  As a result, out of preference or practicality, we tend to gravitate towards those areas where there is an initial indication of solvability.  In this regard our search for new innovation resembles nothing more than the efforts of someone at midnight looking for lost keys who only searches underneath the streetlights. We look only where we can see.


The challenge in avoiding impossible questions is that it increases the probability that you will only discover, and in fact can only discover, solutions that you expect.  Exploring the unknowable has the potential to identify technologies that might address unexpected solutions or capitalize on nascent trends that can yield significant returns. One of our favorite pitches in the last few years was based on a single question: The United States has gotten very good at monitoring and understanding what happens in the electronic and signals domain but who is monitoring the biological domain?


The Unimaginable: Absurd Questions

"The unimaginable" refers to questions and concepts that defy today's reality so profoundly that they seem like fantasy. Some of the greatest innovations transformed society in ways that would have seemed absurd only a few years earlier. In retrospect, the impossible often seems inevitable.


It is amusing to note that truly great innovations do not necessarily look radical so much as they make the prior solutions look idiotic. Uber is a transformative business whose services now seem logical and normal.  Uber’s success is best acknowledged by the absurdity of the prior best practice: standing in the rain at night waving your arms frantically and hoping a taxi would randomly pass by.


Some of our favorite pitches were based on incredibly simple but comical observations: Why do planes and drones fly primarily in straight lines?  Why is space mono-directional (we take things up, but rarely bring them down)? How often is the physician secretly in the other room googling symptoms?


Shaping Strategic Foresight

By exploring the unthinkable, we can challenge assumed norms and discover hidden opportunities. By studying the unknowable, we can prepare for risks and innovations that are probable yet unseen. And by embracing the unimaginable, we can cultivate a mindset ready to consider impossibilities that might one day redefine our reality.

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