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Art of Possible vs. Proven Paths to Success

by Hank Barnes  |  September 19, 2017  |  3 Comments

Following my recent blog on hype cycles, I’m worried about the continued hype around “The Art of the Possible.”   The term seems to be growing in popularity over the last 10 years, with many vendors focusing on this as part of their sales discussions with customer.  Gartner is in the game too. For example, my colleague, Doug Laney, has been working across the analyst community to assemble a library of customer stories related to data, analytics, and infonomics.

But to me, we may be overusing the term and these stories.

Art of the Possible stories are great for brainstorming, for creativity, for illustrating exactly what the term implies–what is possible.

That works great early in the buying process, to help stimulate interest.   But a continued push toward this as you get deeper into buying efforts is not helping the customer.

They don’t want to know what is possible.  They want to know exactly how they achieve that possibility–or their own version of it.  They want proven paths to success.



What can we do about this.  Here are a few ideas:

  1. Couple every (or as many as possible) “Art of the Possible” story with detailed stories on how the outcome was achieved.
  2. Focus on your customer during the buying process and recognize when you need to shift from “possible” stories to “paths to success” stories.  For some, this may be very early in the process.  Others it may be later.
  3. Use hype cycles to gain added perspective on what technologies are really in the stage where Art of The Possible is key.  Those are ones between  “innovation trigger” and “peak of inflated expectations.”  And yes, “possible” stories contribute to that hype.  As you move further on the hype cycle curve, proven paths to success become more and more important–particularly in the trough of disillusionment.

Art of the Possible stories are fun and have their place, but they won’t get you deals with the bulk of the market on their own.  For that, put more investment in proven paths to success.

And that will help you, like your customers, achieve that success.

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Category: go-to-market  

Tags: customer-buying-process  innovation  strategy  success  

Hank Barnes
VP Distinguished Analyst
6+ years at Gartner
30+ years IT Industry

Hank Barnes explores the dynamics, challenges, and frustrations enterprises face when buying technology products and services. Using that customer-centric lens, he advises those responsible for marketing technology products and services, general managers responsible for product portfolios, and startup CEOs on next practices to drive success for their customers and their business. Read Full Bio

Thoughts on Art of Possible vs. Proven Paths to Success

  1. Svein Lister says:

    Thank you for an excellent post, Hank. I think I will send a link to every one of the suppliers I have been in contact with over the past 12 months.

  2. Great article. It makes me think of an ERP customer i’m working with. Lots of things are possible including risking having their plant shut down for a day because of a poor implementation. So Hank are you suggesting to balance what’s possible with lessons learned executing?

  3. Hank Barnes says:

    Yes, and perhaps err towards more lessons learned. There are more buyers in the market that are looking for solutions that they can be confident in the results than there are looking for innovations that are risky.

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