Seeing Your Innovating Future Across Different Horizons

The three horizons offer us much to frame our innovating future

IFD Mountain ViewFollowing a couple of recent posts on reflecting on the three horizons methodology, firstly here and then here, I wanted to come back to where I see real value, in managing innovation into the future.

The 3H methodology enables us to look out into the future, across three different horizons that can manage the transition between short, medium and long term in our innovation activities, something often badly lacking in most organizations thinking.

It allows us to gauge  the challenges, adding aspects we are beginning to gain a sense of, transitioning from one position to another. It allows us to deepen our evaluation of the innovation portfolio of activities, resources and skill sets across different delivery frames of short, medium and longer-term.

It is one that requires us to reflect and possibly make change, then we can move forward to meet the new challenges, within this emerging vision of the possible futures.

So 3H is a way of working with change, it offers us a foresight and framing tool for drawing out our often conflicting discussions and views of what all this potential change might mean, from our established patterns or approaches and those that are possibly emerging. The 3H supports innovation’s management very well.

Accepting everything has a finite life-cycle

From my perspective we see businesses littered with not wanting to make change, rejecting the changes going on all around them. These are happening in changing technology, different business models, threats from competitors coming into the market with different and often low-cost models.

Source: Adapted from Sharpe / Hodgson

Sometimes a concept or product has ‘run its course’ is seen as yesterday solution, or industry segments separated in the past are suddenly ‘fused’ together in new ways due to new technologies, or being purposefully designed, they begin to disrupt the existing.

We can’t afford to ignore the ‘call of change’, it places our business at significant risk. Recognizing the challenges life-cycle management can bring, does need careful managing within our innovation management.

We do need to recognize changing conditions and begin to plan out our responses, both short and longer-term through a well crafted transformation road map. The 3H can underpin this.

So where are you viewing the world from?

Why expand the Innovation Horizon visualMany of our organizations are viewing the world from where they are.This is often in the safety of their offices. They feel comfortable to stay with what they know.

They only see change when something suddenly triggers their perception and the world alters, and it then gives way to a new horizon of sight. Often these can come far too late.

What needs to challenge this place of “the world of where we are” and prompt fresh thinking so we can allow one of emerging knowledge and insight to enter into. One where perhaps we are blending our imaginations, with some envisioned destination, where change will likely alter today’s dominant position. We need to prepare for it as these insights can radically alters our present position. We become open to change, to think differently.

We need to see the clues all around us

We need to reflect and see how we can forge those new innovation patterns. A methodology that helps raises our future consciousness and moves us to building new competencies for future competitive advantage is surely valuable?

We cannot stay trapped in our offices, our constant need is to find all possible means to be fully engaged and well-connected into the changes taking place within and across the world.

Managing the present, moving towards the future

wave tension painitingIn any future thinking there are numerous uncertainties, yet we also need to address the familiar “the way we (presently) do things around here”.

We need to grapple with “how can we ‘keep the lights on” but equally move towards a different horizon without “betting the shop” and totally disrupting all we have built up? This requires even deeper thinking.

Something that requires us to re-equip, challenge existing and entrenched ways of working, bring in and fuse new skills and capabilities, push experimentation and exploration far more, tolerate failures in new ways, keep shareholders happy, recognizing the need to make change for a potential sustaining future. Possibilities of changes in our ways of working and approach begin to unlock and open up to different thinking.

The unlocking of the future is partly recognizing the future patterns, yet is is equally releasing us from the dominance of old ways of working, systems and structures – ways we have been increasingly sensing are no longer truly work well for us.

We need to shape our future intentions

Different Futures VisualIt is the second horizon; you can read a further post specifically on this 2nd horizon, “entering the zone of uncertainty”  within this framework, that is the hardest one to work through.

This is the transitory horizon, balancing today’s business with the investigations and new possibilities to lead towards a future.

Our abilities to manage this transitory zone (the 2h) is vital for our innovation management, it holds the key to staying locked in the present or moving towards a sustaining future built on different views and perspectives

For me the value of the 3H is in its use within innovation’s management.

Three Horizon Challenge 4The three horizon framework offers a map of transformational potential which allows us to move towards finding new skills, degrees of new freedoms and creativity, we are striving for a balance between existing and preferred, based on present day understanding.

Scoping out the future needs for innovation to address needs different thinking. It needs foresight and exploration. It needs to allocate resources across the three different horizons and each of their respective challenges of the future needed from innovation.

This is why the 3H is, for me, a very valuable approach to managing innovation in the present and for the future.

The 3H framework prompts the need for transformational capacity.

I believe there is great value in exploring innovation possibilities through a framework that can support the often diverse management thinking, one that is far more strategic in its focus on exploring the options, working through different scenarios and mindsets, then adjusting the resources accordingly, or identifying required new ones.

A framework that ‘sketches out’ that future promise can significantly improves strategic and innovation alignment, help set organizational direction and defining and allocating resources appropriately.

It frames discussions, it is a navigational guide to allow for framing challenges and seeing perspectives in different frames, so as they can be addressed. The 3H helps scope out the pathway of change from today’s existing innovation approaches. It takes you through the key milestones to the future envisaged and allows you to distinguish different horizon challenges.

Working with the 3H approach can be a very powerful tool for managing our innovation future.

Any framework that draws out concerns, differences of opinions and prompts transformational discussions, can be a very powerful management tool. If it provides the platform for framing and recognizing what needs to change.

If it can help to begin to flesh any capability gaps, stepping-stones to cross and if it can ‘point’ toward the action and activities that need to put into place, so the organization can make their moves towards that different innovation future, then it has great value within any organization wanting to manage and structure its innovation activity.

I believe the three horizons approach can contribute significantly to this aim of managing innovation and giving organizations a sustaining future. I certainly recommend it.


Three Horizons – fields of future, full of foresight.

Three Horizon Book Bill SharpeI’d like to relate to parts of a book that came out in late 2013 from Bill Sharpe. His book, or actually more a booklet, called “Three Horizons: The Patterning of Hope”, published by Triarchy Press, has some really helpful insights.

In this book, Bill outlines his distinct ways of creatively working through many of the unknowns, by framing and connecting though the Three Horizons, (3H) as his contribution to the patterning of hope for all our futures.

I draw out a lot within his thinking, experiences and approaches within the book. Some of these initial thoughts outlined here, re-affirm my own thinking and focus on the 3H, specifically for innovation and its management.

Here are some of the ‘triggers’ I connected with strongly from his book:

The three horizons does offer us much to frame the future

Firstly, the 3H is actually a simple framework, see my original opening post in 2010,on a quick explanation if you need it. The 3H allows us all to work with what we know, about today, and a method that allows us to engage creatively with what we don’t know. To look beyond the existing.

The 3H methodology enables us to look out into the future, across different horizons. It allows us to gauge  the challenges, adding aspects we are beginning to gain a sense of, transitioning from one position to another. It is one that requires us to reflect and possibly make change, then we can move forward to meet the new challenges, within this emerging vision of the possible futures.

Tackling uncertain futures for transformational change

Bill asks the question in his book “How can people work together to create transformational change in the face of the uncertain future?”

He suggests we have choices, we continue the pattern of how we have been doing things today or we start a new pattern. What can be abandoned and let go, what can be adopted as new and how do we manage the transition.

Bill’s view is that transformation change comes about when we see that the way things are getting done now has its limits; we cannot get much beyond these limits however much we try to improve the existing system and we must face the reality create to create this new pattern for the future we need.

So it becomes clear the 3H is a way of working with change

The 3H offers us a foresight and framing tool for drawing out our often conflicting discussions and views of what all this potential change might mean, from our established patterns or approaches and those that are possibly emerging.

It provides for a transitory step in its second horizon, full of the challenges of wrestling with change, letting go of the present, holding onto essential aspects for the future, embracing often totally new concepts, skills or thinking through positions. You are intentionally drawing out diversity of opinion to improve the dialogue, narrow differences through pattern recognition. It can be tough work.

As Bill states “a lot of dynamics of change come into view quite naturally, and we are lead to explore them in terms of patterns of behavior of those (involved) who are maintaining or creating them”

We can explore the  possibilities found across the three different horizons

The intent of the 3H is to offer a way to look at the process of change, to view possibilities across three different horizons, that encourages us to look and question a little deeper, we make the future more accessible and relevant to us operating in the present, for future intent and action.

It brings out all the differences, often conflicting ‘voices’ and patterns, to challenge continuity. Then we need to figure out what needs to come into ‘play’ to help us understand those future patterns through these dialogues, so we can begin to determine what resources and emphasis to we place on them.

The 3H can help tackle complex problems or from my own focus, the future intent on innovation; in its planning, resource allocations and skill gap identification to build capabilities and capacities to be ‘future’ ready. We need to map innovation across the three horizons.

The three voices that are to be hopefully found in the same room

The different voices involved can be highly engaged, as Bill suggests, you have the voice of today, more concerned with managing the existing, maximizing returns and keeping the organization going efficiently and effectively. Then you have the second voice, the voice of the entrepreneur, the one eager to experiment, try out new things, explore and extend, accepting some aspects will not work and the third voice,  of the aspirant, who is looking to build a different vision, believing in different, more pioneering ways and visualizes things in their ‘mind’s eye’, far more aspirational, that can seemingly on first ‘take’ look to be totally incompatible to the reality of today.

The ability to draw out tensions, seeing emerging patterns and growing awareness

That tension between “our present circumstances and positioning” is full of possible future consequences and those patterns and indications that are stirring the ‘future consciousness.’ For some this seems to be a little wacky, flaky, far too aspirational, surely inconceivable, incongruous and unthinkable.

The value of the 3H framing is to begin to make the connection’s, shifting individual thinking into team actions and decisions. The 3H connects the future for bringing strategy, vision and innovation into greater alignment of thinking through diverging and then converging.

Bridging often highly divergent differences that are causing a growing and deep set of tensions are in fact, in Bills words “different perspectives on the future potential of the present moment”.

We are actually facing three different perspectives; those immersed in the dominant system of the present, with those that ‘sense’ the scope for new thinking and try something different, to those in the third domain of arguing for radical change or seeing things very differently.

The question for all too answer is “how the present might play out in the future?” The job of the 3H is to raise this in all the three opening and different thinking positions, to achieve a more united ‘future consciousness’.

The Three Horizons approach works well with complex issues

The value within Bill’s book is how he describes the three horizons in his experiences often working within complex societal areas:

“It offers a way to find and shape our own intentions more clearly, as we look over the first horizon of the known, towards the second and third horizons of innovation and transformation towards the future.

It transforms the potential of the present moment by revealing each horizon as a different quality of the future in the present, reflecting how we act differently to maintain the familiar or pioneer the new”.

I have found this book offered me a fresh perspective of the power of the 3H framework.

Bill Sharpe’s book does add some fresh and helpful thinking to working with the three horizon framework. It offers real, insightful ‘nuggets’ of an experienced practitioner, working constantly in futures work, taking on problems that need fresh approaches and new concepts, rather than application of routine methods.

Finally as Bill suggests “to shift from our simple, one-dimensional view of time stretching into the future and instead adopt a three-dimensional point of view in which we become aware of each horizon as a distinct quality of relationship between the future and the present. We call the move into this multi-dimensional view, and the skill to work with it, the step into future consciousness”

Through this book Bill provides his personal perspectives that have added real value to my own focus and understandings on how to apply the 3H to innovation.

Reflecting on the Value of the Three Horizon Model for our Innovating Future

Business as usualThere is that prevailing sense that we are just managing for ‘business as usual’, leaving many increasingly uncomfortable and feeling exposed. Why?

Our businesses are not adapting fast enough to changing conditions in the market, often lagging in the competitive race to update and keep relevant.

Businesses are struggling with conflicting knowledge flows and incoming intelligence, just simply managing their talent to keep them relevant, engaged and outwardly orientated.

They need to constantly adjust and adapt to the demands and challenges within the societal conditions, environments and markets, grappling with constant shifts in consumer demand and coping with the declining natural resources and of what all of this might mean.

We are often short on foresight and certainly struggling with growing complexity.

Bill Sharpe and Tony Hodgson, along with Andrew Curry and Graham Leicester, have been working to bring the Three Horizons framework into a more widespread use . Once I had ‘found them’ through the International Futures Forum they became the catalyst for my own perspective of exploring this framework and applying it specifically for innovation

Bill and Tony have recently provide a wonderfully descriptive view of valuing the Three Horizon Framework within a 3H slideshare deck I’d encourage you to work through. It frames and captures much that reflects the tensions and approaches to overcome these.

I’d also encourage you to go back and explore my different thoughts in this site by entering in the search box: “three horizons”. My trilogy of blogs starting with “the Value of Managing Innovation Across the Three Horizons” I’d suggest is equally not a bad place to start for a clear background to this methodology.

Reflecting on a framework to that can help frame those future discussions?

Three Horizons IFFLet me reflect on some of the thinking around the 3H framework as I relate to it from my more dedicated focus, the innovation management perspective.

Why I so much like this 3H framework is in its value where you can construct distinctly different horizon focuses, based on the present, that allow a ‘growing future consciousness’

Our need is that we all must find ways to embrace the future, to not get simply caught up and washed away, because we were ‘just’ unable to move beyond the present, or simply stayed stuck in the past. I think this 3H framework is very powerful to allow us to move beyond our existing framing, to map across different horizons

Often we are caught be surprise, ignoring many warning signs

With our lack of foresight and lack of actions we lose something that begins us to ‘walk the path towards decay.’ If we ignore ‘taking action’ long enough for a host of seemingly reasonable reasons, when something occurs that simply confirms what we inwardly had felt for some time might possibly happen, it has already grown into a real problem.

By using our ability of using foresight; of seeing this possible set of events, different signals and warnings we have two choices. We could have chosen to continued to ignore it, or we start to make  ‘investments’ into building new defenses, new capabilities, new stepping-stones to the future.

There is this powerful need to look towards the future

Based on what we know today and what we can set about building and exploring does hold the exciting promise of the future. Look out of ourselves offers a more rewarding prospect.

A future held in our own hands then we can help shape it and integrate it into our daily lives or of course, we can simply ignore it and keep hunkered down in what we do, feeling we are comfortable and secure. I would argue we all need to embrace change, not avoid it, it never goes away, it is constantly tapping you on the shoulder.

We need to keep reflecting upon what is dominant, prevalent and pattern-changing, as these positions are constantly shifting. Scanning the horizons and what is simply all around ‘us’ offers those ‘pockets of the future’ to invest in, explore and experiment, to be open to change.

Initially these pockets of the future may seem a long way off, often just really weak signals, but are indicating different, perhaps far more radical and perhaps disruptive changes and our organizations need to constantly re-equip for these by building different capabilities and competencies. Technology clearly comes to mind with wave upon wave of change, crashing against the established rocks, beginning to weaken the existing structures and form new ones.

Just remember the present is already in decline

It is the constant renewing, the transforming and capturing of these weak signals, today clearly seen as marginal to our business, that can ‘permit us’ to explore and begin to re-equip ourselves for the changes that might happen. Small investments anticipating potential changes are highly valuable to consider.

We can choose to ignore these signals or poorly under fund them as they are often seemingly vague, often unrelated to our existing practices. They are unsure in what they bring, mostly experimental in the early investigations,that ‘seemingly’ conflict, even drawing resources away from our existing model but at what risk to the future?

The ongoing dilemma we need to also revolve, is around multiple cross over points, between blending the existing with these possible futures, allowing time and resources to figure out and explore the options these might present as future options to the business.

Not enough time really does constraint and dominate

We never can find enough time to manage all that we would like to. We are forced to (eventually) make many rushed choices, often ill-judged or last-minute, reacting to changes being forced on us .

Our interests, values, mindset all ‘kick in’ and when it comes to discussing the future, well often initial discussions begin to move into conflict, based on established positions, types of personality, vested interests or opinions.

Attitudes and judgement are either grounded in the present, with many executives fairly dismissive of the future, or those that are more future related become increasingly impatient in wanting to challenge and change the present.

We need to manage the tensions between the different views on managing the present and the future.

The rising way of change comes from different experiments and innovations

It is partly through the treatment of innovation, feeding into the system a rising wave of future innovations that alter positions. Staying stuck in ‘just’ incremental to serve the existing conditions in the market seriously constrains you for the future, you stop growing, exploring, being curious and experimental.

Encouraging separate and focused discussions on the future are increasingly essential

Managing future discussionsDiscussions within the boardroom, within our R&D centres on the breadth and depth of the future portfolio and the allocation of resources for innovation, needs to have different mindsets within the 3H approach.

There needs to be a framework to surface different assumptions, often conflicting and entrenched views to surface the potential ‘pockets of the future’ as seen through different eyes.

If we can avoid those initial, often highly personal definitive judgements of the future, we can begin to map these conflicting thoughts back to our existing, to see different emerging patterns that meet many of these seemingly ‘conflicting voices’ and each begin to appreciate and see their role of moving the existing into these futures as they make sense to their lens or orientation.

You evaluate what initiatives are already under-way, that have a more future orientation and which seemed to be more sustaining the present. We are looking to find ways for transformational change grounded partly in the present, partly based on clear movement detected.

We are moving the ‘grounded knowledge’ and assumptions into the potentials that are thought to be emerging, we see the role of the present in the future, we can see much can be ‘let go’ and allowed to be opened up and explored differently. We are beginning to adapt to the new environment. The future might be getting clearer.

We need to take care within any future’s discussion.

The three horizon methodology and how you frame each of the dialogue sessions does need care. You are not only dealing with present complexity, but seeing future scope through emerging patterns and many weak signals; equally, we are often dealing with entrenched positions, insecurity and impatience.

It is the ability to step back, to travel in ambiguous territory, challenge the safe bet of extending the old system, to release these deep tensions these conversations will reveal.

I would encourage adopting the three horizon methodology to innovation

We need to encourage a transformation in our capacities by developing a collective awareness of our ‘future consciousness’ that opens up a greater freedom to act and move forward.

I believe the three horizon methodology becomes an essential framework within any organization wanting to determine their resources and evaluate their innovation pathways.

Exploring the field of futures and foresight as an emerging practice

In a future post I’d planning to discuss part of a book that came out in late 2013 from Bill Sharpe. His book, or actually more a booklet, is called “Three Horizons: The Patterning of Hope”, published by Triarchy Press.

In this book, Bill is outlining his distinct and even highly sensitive way of creatively working through many of the unknowns, by framing and connecting though the Three Horizons, offering his contribution to the patterning of hope for all our futures.

Are our organizations ossifying their innovation?

Innovate or dieThe balance between risk mitigation and being equipped for risk readiness is still an ongoing struggle to balance for most organizations.

There is still a continued reluctance for exploring new radical innovation opportunities and although organizations ‘talk’ growth, they continue to struggle in achieving it through new innovation.

The incremental commitments to innovation still rule the day to move growth along. Until a new sustaining confidence returns to our economies, risk mitigation dominates as markets continue to be more volatile and unreliable in predictive data and executive sentiment remains cautious.

Our organizations are looking for a higher certainty of return and seek sometimes endless validation and justification before they commit, even to small incremental changes. It is no wonder incremental innovation dominates in our innovation decisions; it is where reality sits for many. Are we heading off in a bad innovation direction?

Solidification in organizations seems to be moving towards simplification

As this incremental set of attitudes solidifies within organizations, have you noticed a growing trend of recognizing the processes and systems built up are actually more complex and creating ‘drag’ on performance demands? There is a move to greater simplification that strengthens the incremental mindset. We are perhaps ossifying innovation in our organizations if we elect to take this simplification route.

Risk readiness might be taking a bigger ‘back seat’ than we expect. This has significant implications as organizations continue to lose the ability to be ‘growth ready’ to execute on any sudden change of executive direction if market condition suddenly change. Many are losing the ability to innovate beyond incremental approaches. It might catch them out badly if markets suddenly change and they are faced with a very different set of challenges demanding a more radical set of innovation solutions.

What signals are showing through?

Often we read of the likely demise of innovation but I think it’s ‘nature’ is changing. At the top of our organizations there continues to be this higher dissatisfaction with the value and returns within innovation and this is possibly being addressed in different ways down below in the organization, to compensate and appease.

Risky projects for the majority are not the place to blaze away in their careers; they want the known reward from keeping ‘steady’ the ship and being part of the incremental growth movement, to be seen as good operators working at constantly offsetting any risks, delivering what is wanted to be heard, not the bearer of bad news.

Do you spot this trend within your organization or industry? That growing movement where the ones intent on developing the routines that increasingly are only focused on incremental improvements are in the ascendency? Those driven by pushing hard for operation productivity to the exclusion of a number of traits associated with more radical innovation or potential breakthroughs.

Driving innovation through productivity has a real drum beat

Are you in that place where there is this constant attention to improving practices continuously, to the exclusion of enquiry and only investing in the capacities that supports the delivery of this drive for greater productivity. A place where organizations are constantly seeking out those best practices, by wanting to eliminate variation, believing to simply copy others gives them the answer.

Do you gain that sense of impatience to evolve and develop in your own unique ways, as you attempt to short cut your own development in this blind copying? All around you feel that growing sense that the movement of six (sic) sigma is resurfacing, tapping into this quest for greater productivity and the ‘richer’ innovation potential seems to diminish?

When you have this incremental mindset then you become dedicated to standardization, you focus on real-time performance that can be measured and judged, you promote a more careful evaluation of innovation practices, striving to eliminate variances, you become relentless to reduce the unpredictable activities.

It becomes the prevailing organization mindset, the radical innovator drifts quietly away, disillusioned with where it is all going. Left to the gods of others making market change.

Organizations are more comfortable with improving productivity

There has been so many years of cost cutting, the consultant is also repacking it’s services from the present col-de-sac, largely played out, by housing organizations needs under the appeal for this quest for simplification.

Recently I was reading a report from that simplification is the next step in the evolution of productivity. The argument goes productivity is linked to growth and as our organizations are still very determined to do more with less, rather than simply less, the rise of rationalization grows and the demands to tap into this gathers pace.

Mitigating risk is the easier option

It is the attraction of combining this prevailing risk mitigation mindset with the idea of standardising and simplifying, validating through increased data verification and mining, striving for benchmarking and searching for best practices seems to go nicely with placing the innovation bets on increasing the incremental activities, all to the detriment of seeking out more radical innovation. Less risk, steady growth, fits with the short-termism of the board. Reward and remuneration becomes increasingly geared to this.

The vicious circle of meeting the board’s demands for immediate return simply tightens the noose and the longer-term building of capabilities for new innovation continue to slide, pushed off to yet another day, somewhere in the future. Does that really matter to the current board executive or his external board? Managing today’s volatility and uncertainties means risk mitigation is dominating. Let tomorrow be managed by someone else.

Are the majority of our organizations becoming the great sustainers?

A recent article by Gary Pisano on the HBR blogs was arguing for the defence of routine innovation. He suggests the vast majority of profit from innovation comes from the stream of routine, or sustaining, innovations that accumulate for years.

He mentions Intel as a great sustainer, with its value proposition of higher-performing, higher-margin microprocessor chips has not changed. Growth is slowing but Pisano’s argument is Intel has generated cumulative operating income before depreciation of $287.4 billion. That is a lot of cash generation to keep investing or distributing back to the shareholders.

Equally Pisano argues Microsoft that started as a great disruptor but for much of the recent years it has following a sustaining path, defending its position. Of course it has perhaps missed out with this prevailing ‘mindset’ on some really key growth areas, yet it has earned $325 billion over three decades.

The article is equally suggesting Apple is a sustaining, more incremental organization today. It has generated $150 billion is cash flow since 2011. The emphasis is perhaps less on the next big disruption and more on aesthetically pleasing designs and versatility in their devices.

Are we leveraging to existing strengths and not grasping new opportunities?

Gary Pisano’s point is as an organization becomes well established, its innovation strategy needs to understand how to leverage distinctive existing strengths to generate and capture ongoing value.

It is about recognizing and organizing innovation around the repertoire of existing strengths to extend increasing the value from innovation, to play to your existing strengths. Or is it?

Are we not putting off our future by not investing in the future? How can we strike a balance on this and what should that allocation of resources be like? What needs to be brought in to add to the existing repertoire of skills?

Is the innovation message today becoming more deliberate in its design?

I wonder what is around the corner. So is the message today the one of trading off the risks of radical, disruptive innovation for the more incremental, sustaining innovation? Is this the period of evolutionary innovation, less revolutionary?

Of course, we all know that oblivion is potentially ‘just around the corner’ as there are many competitive forces at work looking to disrupt.

For me, it does seem far too many of our organizations today might be far too focused on protecting and defending their existing positions, they are failing to extend beyond a core. Are our organizations working incremental innovation to the detriment of more radical and riskier innovation? Is that unhealthy or simply prudent?

I fear the innovation balance seems not right.

Of course the strategic view of sustaining innovation while you explore and experiment the next big potential wave is the best approach but I tend to feel the dominating mindset of risk mitigation today, is driving many to simply just become incremental innovators only and that has a growing risk attached to it.

You continue to lose the skills, the understanding that more radical innovation is very different in time, in placing your resource allocation and building all the different skills and experience you need and these need to be consistently worked at. They can’t simply be turned off and on when changing market conditions are suddenly confronting you.

If incremental innovation dominates we lose the future

If one type of innovation prevails and begins to dominate, the risks of not providing for a healthy future increases, we are ossifying our innovation. We begin to lose our abilities to be responsive and flexible. We lose our agility to respond to changes in our markets.

What is always needed is to strike a good balance in our innovation portfolio, between the immediate and the future.

We need to not forget that we all must manage in all three innovation horizons to have a (greater) chance of achieving a really sustaining future.

Traversing across into horizon 2 for new breaking innovations

The Conflict Sapce of Horizon TwoWithin our ‘business as usual’ attitudes lie the seeds of destruction. Today there is a relentless pace; we are facing stagnation in many maturing markets.

We place a disproportionately high amount of our resources in the ‘here and now’ to defend what we have and what we know. A potential ‘big mistake’

We actually subvert the future to prolong the life of the existing. We constantly look to make it more efficient and more effective but this is in the majority of cases just incremental in what we do, both in innovation and our activities. These are often simply propping up the past success instead of shifting the resources into the investments of the future.

Spotting signs of innovating decay

Within the Three Horizon framework for innovation the horizon two is beginning to address some of the current decay arising from the core within the existing activities (or system). Here we have the highest tension point as it is the place for transformation to take shape and form.

We do need to challenge short-term thinking and balance this with this longer-term perspective and we do need to traverse into the future in clear thinking through steps (or horizons).

Our horizon one does begin to decay faster today than ever, it does not fully cover off the strategic fit we want and can begin to lose its dominance over time. We need to manage this transition, not let others manage it for us.

It is how we manage this transition becomes so critical.

We need to exploit developing trends that are emerging (h2) and begin to tune into possible options in the future (h3). Within these options will emerge the winners and become the more dominant systems or solutions that we should be moving towards, even from today. Some of these only have faint emerging signals but they need to be brought into the innovation portfolio activity to explore, often in novel ways.

The discussions that centre on often conflicting views of the future, compared to the existing realities and those providing the returns for today’s business. Often we can detect change but we consciously ignore it. This is the place where the disruptor’s are at work, existing or new competitors, working at displacing your products and market positions.

They look to be more agile, they might have greater entrepreneurial ways, they are ready to explore emerging practices far more than the established leaders, they look to leverage different business models and are certainly not handicapped with legacy and mindsets stuck in the past. Increasing competition is today’s certainty.

Horizon Two needs a totally different mindset.

You need to see H2 with different metrics, with different perspectives, with more open minds. This is not easy. This needs to become the meeting point or “the space for transition” where you begin to let go of just protecting your core and open up your thinking to experimentation, prototyping, exploring different business models and begin to figure out how these will impact your existing core, to become more agile and adaptive than you are in the existing system or structures

These horizon (h2) concepts being explored really do need ‘ring fencing,’ so you can protect these from all the ‘vested’ claims that your horizon one focus will continually demand to keep, so as to bring in the results in this calendar year.

It is a real fight, these ideas or nascent concepts ‘give off’ negative results, they are still a mix of the tangible and intangibles where you can’t get the ‘hard’ fix on the ROI, on their real market value or potential.

The risk of internal executive ‘attack’

Many executives ‘defending’ the core will ‘attack’ or hold back any release of their resources to help these emerging initiatives. It is a ‘hard-nosed’ reality. It needs a very high level and conscious set of decisions coming from the top to determine these new moves.

Do not believe that when most executives ‘just’ react and shrug their shoulders regarding h2 as a natural, everyday occurrence, it is far from not. Many have to come ‘kicking and screaming’ to supporting emerging activities. Far too much ‘invested’ interest comes into play. They see this more as a threat not an opportunity. It is not their sand box so why should they ‘play’.

The Collision Zone (h2) of the Three Horizon Approach

The Collision Zone (h2) of the Three Horizon Approach

This is why the three horizon approach has real sustaining value because if we don’t have this longer-term, transformational perspective we are just prolonging the existing until it gets disrupted by others.

This is where the working across different horizons for ‘thinking’ through innovation does need different tools and mindsets and these should be based on (h1) see and operate, (h2) adjust your thinking frame and solutions, (h3) more evolutionary.

Each has different techniques to explore as I’ve previously outlined in my navigation guide to this approach.

The tensions are not just visible but played out in many subversive ways.

Just take performance metrics, if these are solely structured on the calendar year, are you realistically expecting a dilution of focus as their compensation is totally caught up in this.

Horizon two poses a real challenge within any management of our organizations. If it provides current small bases of volume, no real meaningful profit from the investments made it can be a hard sell across the organization.

Projects that focus on the future work mostly are based on ‘best’ assumptions. Sadly it is often executives expect to see the same ‘hard’ metrics being applied as the existing business. We ignore significant differences and this is a huge mistake.

Recognizing our present day thinking are at odds with future thinking

So you get these clear sense that many are sceptical or pay lip service to the products of the future as the thinking, judgement and value orientation are at such odds with the existing measures and metrics they apply to run today’s business and how they get judged.

We must move our thinking beyond the ‘here and now’ and push it into the future if we want to transform our innovation and that takes a very different mindset and where the three horizon framework can help significantly in balancing any innovation portfolio.

Entering the zone of innovation uncertainty

“The future never stays the same as it is in the present”. 

Today we grapple with more uncertainty than ever before. For many of us this is the time of year when planning out the future becomes more ‘top of mind’. These are moments where we have to stop chasing the daily numbers, pushing the immediate projects that are in the pipeline and turn our attention to laying out our future plans. Sadly we often make a poor ‘stab’ at this thinking through process; we don’t get our thinking into the right mental frames.

The problem for management is anything discussing the future enters the ‘zone of uncertainty’ and this ability to often ‘read the tea leaves’ can very much determine the future health and direction of the organization. Ignore these shifts or signals and you are on the path to your own ‘destruction’.

Three Horizons Future never stays the same

Not only should we search for possibilities that extend and strengthen our existing core offerings but we should search out on a wider basis.

Often we make a complete mess of this planning out of our future.

We have not prepared as we should have done, we take what we are doing and project that forward, adding a few tweaks to give it a more ‘innovative’ feel that continues the incremental path we all so easily like to work in.

Help is at hand if you care to grab it!

The other way is to stop and think about this very differently. For this we need to develop different mindsets, ones that change, ones that can allow us to think in different time horizons.

That is managing innovation not just in today’s operational horizon (h1) but in traversing into the future with more breakthroughs (h2) and transformational innovation (h3) that is organized around the three horizon methodology.

The three horizons ‘asks you’ to apply three totally different mindsets to see constraints, weaknesses and often very limited opportunities differently, often called “weak signals”, it alters your thinking into a far more evolutionary approach. We just do not allow our thinking to open up to this evolutionary approach.

We stay trapped in our existing thinking, due to a lack of time or a lack of encouragement to think differently, to challenge our existing approaches to business. We tend to look more at extending products but we only play a little with business model alternatives and rarely with ideas that stretch our minds or pick up on these “weak signals”. We stay trapped within our existing bodies.

Can we attempt to break free? How about if we broke our thinking down into separate steps?

Different mindsets and discussions are based on (h1) operational: the here and now, (h2) more entrepreneurial: attempting to detect shifts and adjusting in agile ways, (h3) more futuristic: based on values, visions and beliefs. Each needs separating.

a) Firstly we set about to clarify the burning needs relating to your present position and link these to your known strategy and approaches but keep questioning this to keep it fresh and relevant to ever-changing market conditions.

b) Try a technique like concept boarding that can capture the emerging trends so you can begin to put together plausible ideas that may be those emerging winning needs (h3) you begin to articulate and frame these. These start to shape your decisions on where to focus your ‘future’ resources as you search for emerging winners.

c) Then you begin to think through the “space for transition” (h2) to begin to reflect and start working through that constant dilemma of “protecting core or investing in new” debates. You are beginning to shape an ‘emerging’ strategy that really brings your thinking out.

d) The end result is you are beginning to explore fundamental different premises for replacing “business as usual” with exploring nascent ideas. Then you need to seek out the appropriate platform, a strategic planning meeting, to explore these.

e) Often these H3, even some in H2 are weak signals today where many unknowns prevail but allow you to straddle between (h1) improve, (h2) extend and (h3) change. You begin to see these differently; you begin to plan them differently.

What emerges is more uncertainly know you need to map and ‘attack’ this

We are moving across ‘transitional ‘points. We do need this longer-term perspective and we do need to traverse into the future in clear thinking through steps (or horizons). Our horizon one (h1) does begin to decay faster today than ever, it does not fully cover off the strategic fit we want and can begin to lose its dominance over time. We need to manage this transition, not let others, our competitors or new entrants, manage it for us.

It is how we manage this transition becomes so critical. We need to exploit developing trends that are emerging (h2) and begin to tune into possible options in the future (h3).  Within these options will emerge the winners and become the more dominant systems or solutions that we should be moving towards, even from today. Some of these only have faint emerging signals but they need to be brought into the innovation portfolio activity to explore, often in novel ways.

The horizon two is beginning to address some of the current decay arising from the core within the existing activities (or system). Here we have the highest tension.

The discussions that centre on often conflicting views of the future, compared to the existing realities and those providing the returns for today’s business. Often we can detect change but we consciously ignore them. This is the place where the disruptor’s are at work, existing or new competitors, working at displacing your products and market positions

Managing the rising stars or a future transforming one is hard in existing structures.

The concepts that emerge from horizon two will include the rising stars of the organization and will, over time, become even the new core business. These are a mixture of step-outs from today’s core, or extensions that have come from the adjacent work consciously being undertaken or are truly emerging as new activities that need new depth in capabilities and time to build.

Many executives ‘defending’ the core will ‘attack’ or hold back any release of their resources to help these emerging initiatives. It is a ‘hard-nosed’ reality.  It needs a very high level and conscious set of decisions coming from the top to determine these new moves. Do not believe that when most executives ‘just’ react and shrug their shoulders regarding h2 as a natural, everyday occurrence, it is far from not.

Many have to come ‘kicking and screaming’ to supporting emerging activities. Far too much ‘invested’ interest comes into play. They see this more as a threat not an opportunity. It is not their sand box so why should they ‘play’. These positions need drawing out and how you execute on your thinking will help.

Horizon two is where you work through your future options

This is where you try out, experiment, explore. This is the transiting point (my space of transition and zone of uncertainty) where you work through different dilemmas and paradoxes to shift the organisation through this horizon two to position it for the longer-term future. This horizon is a real point of disruption to be well-managed as you navigate from shifting resources from today’s core to that third horizon, the predicted future where ideas and proposals are still forming.

The ‘zone of uncertainty’ needs more of your time

Horizon two actually ‘claims’ more time and attention than on the surface it deserves but this is the wrong thinking approach,  it simply needs too. This is not about supporting the ‘existing’, this is working actively on the ‘preferred’. It is working to reduce current shortcomings, injecting new life and vigour into the present to offer a broader sustaining future.

Horizon two investments should be challenging ‘business as usual’ and should contain many of the catalysts for renewal, for the future growth. It is renewing the ‘fitness for purpose’ through innovation taking you along different pathways to the long-term successors of your business.

You owe it to your planning to think in different mindsets and horizons

The three horizons working through in different mindsets does allow you to pick your fights, explore your emerging options and show others how and where you can possibly win in better ways than just in the ‘present’. You are ‘allowing’ discussion to shape the future business in  a more evolutionary way.

By ‘seeing’ these three horizons differently and setting about managing the different challenges each horizon brings, can help you can break down the complexities within the issues. By simply recognizing and then attacking the ‘uncertainties in horizon two (h2), you do have a much to have a better chance to ‘win’ in more ‘transforming ways’ by anticipating and evolving the delivery of innovation in a more structured way.

Structuring your thinking across different horizons is far better than ‘jumping into your plans’ as more of that “business as usual”, simply repeating the same exercises from previous years that keep you on a safe path but maybe, one that plants even more ‘seeds of destruction’ for your business.

You might have chosen the path of least resistance or work, due to not giving this adequate time but you will certainly be missing the real opportunities to ‘transform’ your existing business. Your choice?

Mind the Gaps in Innovation.

Mind the gap 1Most of us that have travelled on the undergrounds around the world and are well used to the announcement as a train pulls into the station of “mind the gap” between stepping off the train and the platform. The reminder is to make us aware there is a gap and we need to be ready for this. We need to be consciously aware.

Innovation nearly always suffers some form of “mind the gap” and yet we tend to ignore the obvious and stumble into these gaps or fail to recognize them completely. These ‘gaps’ comes in so many different ways and guises.

We are in a need to constantly “mind the innovation gaps”, these are everywhere.

Firstly innovation is meant to bridge the growth gap found in organizations, it needs to have clear plans to manage the core, seek out new adjacencies and investigate the white space opportunities for making up the growth plans, so as to meet the strategic goals and aspirations of the organization. Often the resources are not allocated to all three of these, it is often left to the same team to bridge the gaps and more often than not, they fail. We also fail to think across different innovation horizons and not allocated dedicated resources and the time to each of these.

Our leaders have within themselves a real innovation gap as well. They spend less of their time on being involved with facilitating and guiding innovation than is ideal in many organizations, and this is often why we get such disjointed, underwhelming innovation results. Our leaders want innovation but fail to recognize they contribute significantly to having this innovation gap on required performance because they are not as engaged as they should be. They fail to put in their personal legwork and leave it to others. I am a real advocate for having in place a clear well-articulated innovation framework from the leadership of the organization

We have gaps in the current enabling innovation practice, these are either not integrated into the organizations or piecemeal, rather held in silo’s and pockets of knowledge, that don’t achieve the organization connection needed to get the ‘full force’ of momentum from the innovation efforts.

We lack gaps in how we reinforce innovation, in how we integrate it into our organizations and alongside all the other systems. We have gaps in the way we construct our cultures and environments for innovation to thrive. Far too often it simply struggles to survive. It stumbles from one innovation event to another, lacking a sustaining approach.

We have generation gaps in understanding and practices. Far too often the middle managers within organizations fail to bridge the gaps of understanding. How we can create a better common affinity as it would help to close some of the knowledge and communication gaps if it was consistently recognized and worked upon. Diversity of opinion or approach should be valued.

We have such an innovation gap as we often lack a common language within organizations to reduce misunderstandings, to extract all the necessary synergies that innovation does require. This lack of a common language is for me one of the biggest gaps to why innovation does not achieve its true potential. Far too often innovation is pulled in multiple directions and used for personal agendas. We mix up these personal ambitions and so ‘mess up’ the true potential of the innovation. We need a more transparent environment where a common goal can be seen and all can collectively work upon.

Then we have the performance gaps,where the impact of the innovation efforts are less than initially stated, the impact expected falls short or the execution was lacking. All can be serious gaps often understated or understood. Metrics often have yawning gaps that fail to capture the true value of innovation.

My last one is the gap of simply just knowing. What does actually happen? Innovation is often argued as a mystery, it needs to be left to chance, it is full of serendipity, and it is constantly dealing with the unknowns and untested. Yet there are so many gaps in this view in my opinion to be challenged and challenged hard. We need to consistently work at understanding the mechanisms, often the combination of random events and pursuing knowledge that matters that collide and give us breakthroughs, and the events that suddenly come together to give us advancement on the existing.

There are so many innovation gaps that we fail to resolve and just leave unresolved.

We have to work at it. The amount of training, of repeating routines, of practice, of incremental improvements often makes the difference between a good sports-person and a great one. We need to be well aware of our performance. Innovation needs constantly working upon, improving, in striving to understand what actually happens. The more we work on improving the performance and reducing the gaps the better.

Innovation relies often on interactions between a wide diversity of interested parties. It is structuring these interactions and exchanges of knowledge that gives us not just the new production of products but into the value adding areas of new services and new business models. We can extend our thinking beyond immediate challenges into broader social and economic challenges to bring more meaning into our innovation activities.

We need to bridge the gaps of what is truly important in our lives.

We actually do have the biggest innovation gap here. There is incredible room for organizations to bridge the social challenges of our time in health and welfare with innovative treatments, preventative solutions and diagnostics. We also need to reduce the gaps in our existing education shortfalls, we need to protect our environment more, help in stress relief, age related solutions, working conditions, poverty reduction, in disease prevention and making basic essentials available to everyone (water and electricity). Our business organizations need to connect far more to the social challenges all around us to help in reducing the inequalities or advance the solutions needed.

The innovation gaps are everywhere if we care to look.

Striving to introduce truly life-changing innovation that is needed may not be so possible for many of us but we do need to address the many innovative gaps we find in our everyday lives. Those that will support our collective capacity to initiate, absorb, support, organize, manage and exploit innovation in its many forms. Often innovation is hidden in plain sight. We need to reorganize the DNA genetic code of the organization. We need to identify all the innovation impediments and gaps we can and work to minimise them.

We need to firstly stimulate innovation action – each of us needs to identify the gaps.

Hal Gregersen of Innovators DNA fame, suggests we can all build personal intent around the following: provoking questions, making observations, connecting and talking to a diverse range of people, being involved in experimenting to find better fits and finally connecting the unconnected. Just starting with consciously working on these would reduce many of the gaps that are simply around us.

As we are about to step off the underground train and hear the message “mind the gap” perhaps you should ask yourself “how can I lessen our innovation gap today?” Just keep calm and well focused, determined to reduce those innovation gaps that are all around us.