Thinking in different horizons prompts you to go beyond the usual focus of fixing innovation just in the present. The Three Horizons Methodology connects the present with the desired future and identifies the ‘seen’ disruptions which might occur in moving towards a vision.

This first emerged in the late nineties through the work of Baghai, Coley and White (1999) and has been further developed by a range of practitioners such as Andrew Curry, Anthony Hodgson and Bill Sharpe (2008) and the International Futures Forum, based in Scotland.

This methodology lends itself well for mapping out the different horizons needed for innovation, the discipline I focus within. It offers a helpful way for connecting your innovation activities over different horizons and managing uncertainty in better ways.

Exploring the Three Horizons

We need to clarify how to identify the existing prevailing or dominant system and the challenges to its sustainability into the future, i.e. the case for change (horizon 1). Innovation can lose the ‘fit’ aspects over time as the external environment changes.

We also need to think through the desirable future state, the ideal system you desire and the emerging options . Those that can displace what you already have. Often you can identify elements in the present that give you encouragement(horizon 3); keeping yourself open to all options that could lead to transformational change.

Often the struggle is to draw out the nature of the tensions and dilemmas between vision and reality, and the distinction between innovations that serve to prolong the status quo and those that serve to bring the third horizon vision closer to reality (horizon 2); This is the space of transition, often unstable, called the intermediate space where views can collide and diverge.

When you innovate do you consider the following?

  • Innovations that improve your current operations?
  • Extend your current competencies into new, related markets ?
  • Change the nature of your industry ?
  • How do you managethe different time dimensions on innovation?
  • What can help reduce the uncertainty dimension associate with the unknowns of innovation not yet seen?
  • There is always an innovation “zone of uncertainty” as the future never stays the same- how do you address this effectively?
  • How can you capture the options to allocate the necessary resources behind these?

We so often struggle to articulate our innovation activity and then can’t project our plans into the future in consistent and coherent ways. If this ring’s true for your innovation activity in your organization, then it is in danger of being seen as isolated; one-off events that fail to link to your organizational strategy for the longer-term. Furthermore you’ll be missing, or not capitalizing on, emerging trends and insights where fresh growth opportunities reside.

The 3H framework offers a perspective that accepts the need to both address the multiple challenges that occur in the first horizon, foster the seeds of the third and, allocate appropriate focus and resources to manage the transitions from one to another.

What makes the model valuable to innovators is that it ‘accepts’ that competition is restless, markets are evolving and dynamic and that change is a constant. The three horizons approach offers the methodology for constructing plausible and coherent innovation activities projected out into the future. It looks for emerging winners.

This is not a planning tool; it is providing a valuable evolutionary perspective that dialogues can be formed around so decisions on where to focus and what resources to apply can be made on a more plausible and coherent set of activities projected into the future, searching for emerging winners that can change and challenge your existing business.

You learn to map your innovation future across the three different horizons