What is viable? Definition and examples

If something is viable it means that it can work successfully; in other words, it is feasible and will prevail. In botany, a seed or spore that is viable is one that can germinate. When we use the term in biology, it means that it is capable of living, surviving, or thriving, especially under certain conditions.

We use the term for anything or any situation which can continue developing, growing, or living successfully.

The term first emerged in the English language in 1828. It came from the French word ‘Viable,’ which means “capable of life.” In 1848, we started using the word when talking about newborn infants in 1848. If a newborn or fetus is viable, it means that he or she can survive outside the uterus after birth, possibly with the support of modern medicine.

A viable business

When we use the term to describe a company, it means that it is able to survive and succeed. In other words, the business continues making a profit year after year – it is profitable. It is a going concern. When a company has more money coming in than going out, it is making a profit.

In business, we also use the term when describing a plan if we think it is realistic and therefore is likely to succeed.

The Financial Times’ glossary, ft.com/lexicon, has the following definition of the term:

“A viable plan, system, suggestion, etc. is realistic and therefore may succeed.”

“A viable company or organization is making a profit and can continue to do business.”

Viable business
A business that is viable is one that we believe will continue being profitable for a long time.

Viable vs. feasible

Although the two words are very similar, their meanings are not quite the same. We use them in different situations.

If we say that something is feasible, we mean that it is possible to do. For example, if somebody asks: “Is it feasible to build a house with this material?” I might answer: “Yes, it is. However, it will be a small house, with perhaps two bedrooms.”

Feasible means that it is possible to do – it can be done.

Viable, on the other hand, focuses on whether something will succeed. If a plan is not viable, it means that it will not succeed. Perhaps I can do it, but doing it is not a good idea. A plan that is not feasible, however, cannot be done.

A seed that is not viable is a seed that cannot germinate. A seed that is not feasible, on the other hand, is a seed that does not exist because it is impossible to create (we’d rarely use the word ‘feasible’ in this context).

Viability study vs. feasibility study

A viability study is an in-depth investigation of a business idea. Specifically, whether it might be profitable. If so, the study determines whether we should convert it into a business enterprise.

A feasibility study is an assessment of how practical a proposed plan or method is. It is an analysis that determines whether it is possible to complete a project successfully. Many feasibility studies today, however, include trying to determine whether a proposal or project is also capable of producing long-term profits.