Drawing out the different voices within the three horizon methodology for Innovation

Three Growth HorizonsWe so often struggle to articulate our innovation activity and then can’t seemingly project our plans into the future in consistent and coherent ways. We often lack the framing necessary.

If this rings true of the 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. Furthermore you’ll be missing out, or not capitalizing on emerging trends and insights where fresh growth opportunities reside.

I so often come back to the messages we need to learn, which centers around the three horizon methodology.

I just wish this framework would be adopted far more within organizations. wanting to build a sustaining dialogue around innovation, it can be such a powerful enabler.

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Are you engaging with all the different voices around you?

How do we manage future discussions

Having different perspectives and voices will enhance your innovation activities, they provide diversity, stimulus and greater options for you to consider the future innovation journey. How do we set about engaging with all these different voices surrounding innovation?

Have you ever worked with the three horizon framework?

It is really useful for managing your innovation activities, drawing out the often conflicting voices within the organization on how to take innovation forward. The approach can unlock you from just being caught in the present, to one of envisaging a future that then allows you to begin to build different capabilities, competencies and capacities.

Find out more here and here and here on the three horizons or within this blog site put “three horizon approach ” into the search box. You will find  I have provided a considerable overview in different posts thoughts on the 3H thinking and why I place such value in it for innovation’s evolution.

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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?

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I wonder who is withering on the innovation vine?

Dying on the grape vine 1This week I tuned into the Pipeline virtual conference for product development practitioners and gained an encouraging feeling that innovation is progressing along nicely. Packed all within a day there was plenty of material ‘fodder’ to feed off of and learn from.

A really good conference but what quickly followed was a strong dose of that withering on the innovation vine.

I read two consulting surveys around innovation

I’ve been suddenly pulled out of my virtual bubble back into the harsh realities of where innovation really is. Just simply how innovation is struggling and that lies far more at the top of our organizations than below, those below who are simply trying to ‘get on with the job’ but with at least one hand (or even two) tied behind their backs.

I have been reading two sets of observations, one from Fahrenheit 212, the other from Innosight and my mood began to change. I’m suddenly back in reality where we have this huge gap between those ‘working’ innovation and those at the top simply not engaging with innovation or still failing to understand it or even failing to connect the dots.

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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.

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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

Within our ‘business as usual’ attitudes lies 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 here to defend what we have and what we know; 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.

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.

Clayton Christensen has written about this theory of disruption in his book “The Innovator’s Dilemma”. Professor Christensen then went on to write extensively on this and one further book “Seeing What’s Next” co-authored with Scott Anthony and Erik Roth develops this disruptive theory into how the future will unfold and how to make wiser choices on these insights. The three horizon connecting approach is an excellent methodology to use to help in managing these wiser choices.

The hardest part is to traverse across into horizon 2 for new ‘breaking’ innovation

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 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 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 Collision Zone (h2) of the Three Horizon Approach

The Collision Zone (h2) of the Three Horizon Approach

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.

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 Conflict Sapce of Horizon Two

Horizon Two- Where policy and strategy are played out in the Three Horizons

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. 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.

Often we then impose a set of metrics to compensate for this resistance.

This allows for a sudden rush of promising new products entering the market, of chasing and competing for those same resources as the ones focused on the core. The push to validate, explore and experiment might make the situation worse. You introduce waves of inefficiency into your highly tuned supply chain, you detract from selling and competing in tough market conditions and you then hear that comment “we took our eye off the ball”

This new ‘push’ for establishing the rising stars ends up that most of the promising concepts never really cross the finish line of moving from ‘interesting’ to main stream. The core also starts to suffer from these multiple distractions and eventually ‘innovation’ gets a bad rap. Many promising ideas get starved or killed off from emotional reactions.

The demand from supporting horizon two products or emerging concepts demands managements serious attention to getting resource allocation, response and focus into ‘actively’ managing this very real and tangible ‘innovators dilemma’.

Managing the rising stars or future potential 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 adjacency work consciously being undertaken or are truly emerging as new activities that need new depth in capabilities and time to build.

These all have the potential to shift the organizations revenue base and challenge today’s cash generators. These need careful ‘portfolio and resource’ allocation. These extend the organization from your existing into new competencies, new markets and new challenges. Just please don’t use the same measures or metrics when you mix H1 and H2, although there is a huge temptation because it is just simply easy.

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) 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.

Horizon two actually ‘claims’ more time and attention than on the surface it deserves but this is the wrong mindset,  it simply needs too. This is not about supporting the ‘existing’, this is working actively on the ‘preferred’ as 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.

Horizon two can be a powerful catalyst.

 It can alter the way you are currently doing things, in new business models, in new systems, structures and delivery. It points you to a new, hopefully preferable future, worthwhile to pursue and attractive. It refreshes, it can invigorate and this horizon holds the keys and transition path to realizing that vision laid out in the ideas forming in horizon three.

To battle the increasing pace of obsolescence, we need to not just see and operate in today’s world; we must look towards the future. We must break out of incremental steps alone in our innovation activities, they just don’t simply ‘cut the mustard’ any-more, they are simply not good enough, in our rapidly changing world where increased competition is appearing from anywhere. We need to build out new capabilities, capacities through new innovation competencies.

We not only need to envision our future and the part we want to play within it but need a clear approach to working through the challenges and tensions to achieving a real balance in our innovation portfolio that work towards the same goal of being a material part of the business.

That is managing innovation not just in today’s horizon (h1) but in traversing into the future with more breakthroughs (h2) and transformational innovation (h3) that is organized around the three horizon methodology.  Making that essential traverse through horizon two is the toughest part. It needs carefully managing to have any really sustaining pathway to the emerging future.

Casting-around with a wider innovation net.

When we ‘cast around’ we are looking for something; to try it out, to think about it, to search for connecting a vague idea with something more tangible. So let’s go innovation fishing.

The word ‘cast’ is around us in so many ways – anglers cast their line, we are cast adrift, we cast or drop anchor, we cast to put about, to tack, we cast our eyes upon the speaker, we cast light, we cast aspersions, we cast someone in a play, we cast a plan, we cast into a certain mould, are all just some of the many examples of how ‘cast’ is part of our everyday thinking.

In innovation, cast can become a fairly dominating action – we can cast about or around for ideas, to devise a plan, we can equally cast off those ideas or concepts we reject or simply cast out, or finally, we can agree to cast one’s lot into a plan or concept to take forward as a united team.

For me casting around is a most important part of how I work through innovation coaching.

‘Casting around’ in coaching is trying to understand and see the possible ways to get someone from point A to a new point B. This needs to be in a safe environment, so as to tackle any blockages or misunderstandings and were established patterns might need challenging can be discreetly explored so we cast around initially to explore the different triggering points. Also by having a ‘neutral’ environment but having a clarity of why we are coaching permits for a growing receptivity based on specifics. This allows for being more specific in changing and shifting perceptions that can eventually lead to better innovation understandings and outcomes. Casting is actually essential and becomes a significant part of the solidification process within coaching.

Good casting needs a clear routine, method and structure.

So why is casting important to innovation? Casting objects has been around for thousands of years. The better your experience in ‘casting’ the more likelihood you arrive at something that is useful and valuable (and highly appreciated) from the efforts put in.

When we think through building the capabilities for more open innovation, it is the finding and developing good ideas that innovation is all about. To get to this end-result of delivering upon the idea into tangible innovations it is often thanks to having in place the process to find, capture and commercialize and providing the corporate culture that promotes and protects these processes, to allow for trust but to execute rigorously against clear criteria and (emerging) objectives measured against specific goals. This becomes the art of casting open innovation.

It is this art of casting around we can increase discovery, we can capture and act on that discovery or set of connections to generate our future innovation activity. The more we establish a set of patterns, perhaps to have a casting process, the more we can evolve ideas and move them along the innovation process. We gain confidence if we know where we are going but we do need a ‘casting plan’.

What is important when we set about casting we do need that certain ‘something’ that gives the process a good structure and a given clarity. I think as we cast we need to work through five stages of casting :Discovery, Generation, Conversion, Diffusion and Acceptance. We raise our abilities if we cast in a prescribed way.

The virtues of openness are like casting a wider innovation net for better return.

Open innovation gives us all considerable benefits from looking outside our existing organizational boundaries for different concepts and ideas. We can also draw in outside help and partly to confirm those ideas in our growing connections with the final consumer. We need to cast more often today in a world where we have to work at being the smartest.

It is reckoned that an organization that has strong and robust open innovation capabilities are seven times more effective than firms with weak capabilities and is twice as effective as those with moderate capabilities, in terms of generating returns on their overall R&D project investment portfolios (source Booz & Co research)

Innovation needs casting practice in knowing where to ‘fish’.

If we keep practising casting, we will be making longer and longer casts as we gain in open innovation experience. Just like in fishing you gradually loosen up the control until you get confident in where, what and why you want to cast (around).

Remember when you are searching for innovation, no different from fishing,  always reel in enough line after you cast to make enough tension, so you can begin to ‘feel’ the response and gain that feel this is worth ‘reeling in’.

The real key to innovation casting though is back-casting.

Back-casting method

The back-casting method helps define our innovation understanding

As you might know, I have consistently argued about having a clear understanding of where you want to go (a vision and awareness) and in particular why I think the mapping across the three horizons is a more than valuable technique for knowing where and why you are ‘casting’ in specific areas. If you have some clarity on the future, those multiple horizons you need to explore, then your efforts of landing from your ‘casting around’ increase significantly.

You can ‘cast’ simultaneously and more accurately for those multiple needs. Those immediate ‘burning needs’ required for improving on today’s products and then you can open-up possible areas for those future ‘winning needs’. But more importantly this back-casting allows you to ‘look across’ new horizons, explore and take a greater time to ‘feel’ out and explore new areas of discovery to take you then through the five stage loop suggested above.

Having three different mindsets of the ‘here and now,’ more entrepreneurial, and more futuristic, based on this vision and awareness and then back-cast, allows for throwing open the innovation net for catching ‘greater’ possibilities.

No, casting is absolutely critical to innovation.

If we can learn the technique of ‘casting forward’ and ‘casting back’ we are gaining insights into ‘casting around.’ We have a much clearer plan of where and why we are looking for something because it has become more specific. Then we can try it; explore its possibilities, to think about it, to search for the connections that turn a vague idea into something more tangible. Open innovation becomes highly focused and well-cast! It becomes aligned.

Casting correctly can lead to greater promise, perhaps the innovation ‘catch of the decade’.