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.

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One thought on “Three Horizons – fields of future, full of foresight.

  1. Pingback: Seeing Your Innovating Future Across Different Horizons | Paul4innovating's Blog

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