Traversing different horizons for transformative innovation

Irrespective of the organization, we all struggle with transformational innovation. So often we are simply comfortable in our ‘business as usual’. We gear performance to the short-term, we put the emphasis on the current fiscal year, and we support the core business in numerous ways, usually with lots and lots of incremental innovation, so the results are realizable in this year.

We are sometimes comfortable or confident enough to move into adjacent areas, to expand and feed off the core but these are less than transformational in most cases. This space is the one we are the most comfortable to work within, this is the horizon one of the three horizon model approach outlined to manage innovation across a more balanced portfolio of investment.

In summary, the three horizon model for innovation is actually a reasonably simple idea: with Horizon One (h1) being the current business focus, Horizon Two (h2) being more the related emerging business opportunities and Horizon Three (h3) being those that are moving towards a completely new business that can have the potential to disrupt the existing one.

The complexity lies underneath this simple idea, you need to manage these different horizons with completely different mindsets. You need clear well-structured ways to extract the real return from managing a comprehensive innovation portfolio based on knowledge, experience, intelligence but exploring plenty of the unknowns about the future and openness to get you there, as ready as you can be . Its necessary today.

The seeds of destruction lie in horizon one

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Innovation Empowerment Is So Elusive

Looking across a sea of faces you feel that certain resigned feeling, that lack of empowerment, you press on, encouraged by the movement, not within the eyes but the clock. Is that the only thing ticking? You shudder.

How many times have you felt that ‘wave’ of oppression when one colleague looks nervously at his boss just sitting across from him in the same workshop or conference, hoping to gain some new, fresh glimmer of hope? None comes, just a stony, empty blank face staring straight back.

It is really sad but with all that is written about innovation, discussed, offered as leading, best or emergent practice, the majority still simply don’t get it and if they do, they often are forced to keep quiet about it. It can be depressing to witness.

Often you get that feeling the different (and latest) innovation message simply rolls over, a little like the mist rolling in off the sea on a foggy wet day, slowly clawing itself up over a wet rock to suddenly stop and hang there, waiting for something to change.

Will ‘getting it’ change for the many or does this resigned feeling wait upon the boss suddenly waking up and getting innovation, so it all suddenly changes and the innovating sunshine comes out. Empowerment needs enactment

Why is it so?

Here’s a vital question to answer:  who is the most important person when it comes to innovation?  Many people will argue it is the person with the best idea.  Others will argue that it is the person who can make the idea a reality.  We believe the CEO or another senior executive is the most important person, since they have the ability to:

  • link innovation to strategy,
  • direct funds and resources to good innovation programs, and
  • accelerate good ideas to market as new products and services.

In mid-sized and large companies, CEOs and senior executives are vital to innovation success.  What’s more, these leaders want innovation to happen.

“Hope springs eternal” perhaps?

    “Hope springs eternal in the human breast;
Man never Is, but always To be blest:
The soul, uneasy and confin’d from home,
Rests and expatiates in a life to come.”

– Alexander Pope, An Essay on Man

Jeffrey Phillips and I have been working on a collaborative ‘white paper’ on this real leadership gap when it comes to innovation. We are still moving this back and forth between us but it does seem from these exchanges from our own independent experiences we have one awful yawning gap to plug before we get that ground swell of innovation empowerment. More will emerge in the weeks and months ahead to get the message of hope out.

If we cannot get this vital message out to the one person that matters for making innovation happen then we will continue to look out and see this sea of faces, who are really wanting to engage. Deep down they do know the problem but can’t seem to influence the way innovation is managed. Just simply knowing that yet they are not in the position to change it. It can’t be ‘released’ until they have been  given permission which so often seemingly falls only at the highest levels within the organization, so they wait. They wait so they can safely extract from all the environment and tools that can be easily available to make it happen, if they have this feeling of confidence and given belief and lasting support.

How can we bring “innovation into every persons life?  Jeffrey and I are trying to construct some different ways to get the message out there and make a more meaningful connection to the leaders than can ‘allow’ empowerment.

Wrapped in a belief helps me

All I know is that ‘relief’ when you come back in from that walk on the cliffs, you shudder from that damp cold and are just grateful you can feel the sunshine just beginning to clear away that mist. We need to organize the winds of innovation change at this leadership level.

We simply need to find ways to unlock and unleash that incredible latent energy waiting to come out of many organizations, locked in their yoke of innovation oppression.

Empowerment should not be so elusive, it needs to be demanded, so innovation can really change our lives and allow “great things to happen” that we can all find hidden within ourselves.

In the US, they are entering the political season again but I feel we should offer “the yes we can” one up for innovation this time as a movement of change, as it offers the pathway towards real engagement and growth, surely that is empowering for us all, leaders especially.

The Navigation of the Three Horizon Framework- An Emerging Guide.

I have planned to explore in three simultaneous blogs, a trilogy of blogs, the three horizon model more extensively. It is a most valuable one to build into your thinking about strategy and innovation.

This is the final blog of the trilogy on the Three Horizon Framework and offers my thinking on an emerging framing to help in navigating through this.

The need is to define your different horizons.

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Connecting the Future Across Three Horizons combining Strategy and Innovation

This is part two of three blogs on the Three Horizon Framework and follows my one called “The value of managing innovation across the three horizons.” It further adds to the initial blog I wrote last year, called “the three horizon approach to innovation ( That blog gave a short introduction to the three horizon approach arguing we should take a more evolutionary perspective across the entire innovation business portfolio by using this model.

Going beyond that initial introduction in a trilogy of blogs, I plan to explore in this one, the second of these three simultaneous blogs, much of the thinking behind the Three Horizon model.

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The Value of Managing Innovation across the Three Horizons

I wrote a blog last year called “the three horizon approach to innovation ( That gave a short introduction to the three horizon approach arguing we should take a more evolutionary perspective across the entire innovation business portfolio by using this model.

Going beyond that initial introduction- a trilogy of blogs

I plan to explore in three simultaneous blogs the three horizon model more extensively, this is the first of the blogs. Part two is here and part three here

The three horizon framework is valuable to build into your thinking about strategy and innovation.  It places emphasis on where to tackle the different approaches to innovation (incremental, disruptive and radical) and place these within their different timing frames that are often need to manage these successfully across their development cycle. The three horizon framework also allows for greater organizational participation on taking out ‘future thinking’ with different mindsets to visualize a variety of challenges in these various horizons and that has a huge value to work through and frame the activity and resources they will need over different time periods. Continue reading

The Three Horizon Approach to Innovation

Thinking through the management of innovation have you ever considered the Three Horizons approach?  It is likely through this approach business leaders can adopt an evolutionary perspective across the entire innovation business portfolio.

If you are using a three horizons type approach to innovation, it becomes clear that you need to continue investing in innovative activities across all three time horizons, even if you’re in the middle of a present day crisis. To do this effectively, you need to have some idea of where you’re heading in the future, and that’s why I think it’s a useful tool for linking innovation to strategy.

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