The Compelling Value of the 3H for Innovation Management

The Value of the Three Horizons of Seeing Beyond

The Value of the Three Horizons of Seeing Beyond

Following on from my suggested Common Language approach to the Three Horizons, I would like to outline here its significant value, within any innovation management thinking.

Clarifying our options requires multiple thinking horizons – seeing beyond for all possibilities by listening to the different voices

For me, the three horizons have great value to bring together and  map all the different thinking and possible innovation options over changing horizons.

You can frame innovation in alternative ways by using this approach. Innovation has multiple evolution points and working with this framework allows you to significantly improve all of your innovation contributions.

It goes well beyond the present value of ‘just’ fitting your existing innovation portfolio and directional management into a typical one dimensional view of just working in the present.

By separating your thinking, appreciating that different voices are competing for attention provides a higher diversity of opinion, different perspectives for improving innovation’s eventual value. Those different voices involved can be highly engaged, all wanting to add their perspective:

  • You have the voice of today operating in horizon one exploiting the core, the incumbent business. The manager(s) responsible are protecting, leveraging and delivering today’s result, very much focused on the operational and result orientated issues. Fully concerned with managing the existing business, maximizing returns and keeping the organization going efficiently and effectively, delivering on the needs of the short-term.
  • Then you have the second voice, the voice of the entrepreneur, those more pushing into horizon two, the ones eager to experiment, to try out new things. They are wanting to push further, to explore and extend, accepting some aspects will not work but keen to investigate, search, experiment and learn from these discoveries. They are experimenting within the current business model but also wanting to push the boundaries to explore alternatives that might have a disruptive or radical aspect where they can begin to equip themselves to understand
  • Last we have the third voice, the voice of the aspirant, who is looking to build a different vision, they operate mostly in horizon three, believing in different, more pioneering, perhaps radical solutions that seeks to visualize things in their ‘mind’s eye’. They are far more aspirational. They are looking to explore concepts that often can seemingly look on first ‘sight’ to be totally incompatible to the reality of today, even they can potentially challenge today’s existing core, perhaps cannibalize it or radically alter its very nature. Those operating within this horizon three are often picking up on ‘weak signals’ that are out there that signify a changing future that might impact their own and set about capturing all that can make this a significant game changer.

It is the combination of these different three voices that need to come together and frame the innovation journey by using the three horizons framework.

Establishing a common understanding of operating in each horizon becomes critical

Innovation is constantly facing disruption; it is constantly going through life cycles and new waves of different activities. We need a far more robust, well thought-through way to apply our innovation resources to meet and anticipate these changing events and for this I always recommend the three horizons.

With the effective use of the three horizons you can see opportunities completely differently beyond the existing mindset and activities, it takes innovation from tactical to strategic, to foresight in your evaluations.

We need common ways to build a language around innovation and its management.

We need common ways to build a language around innovation and its management. As the three horizons can help frame the allocation of resources, determine the innovation road map and contribute to structuring the portfolio into its different parts, it can be essential to this building a common understanding and recognition of its organizing value

Appreciating its evolving value

If you can appreciate the value of the 3H frame in its potential, firstly to aid the mapping out of the present and the challenges the business can find itself in, it gives a common position for all to work through, to find common ground and focus on delivering on the understanding collectively.

The three horizons can help you move towards articulating the road map to the future and provide the encouragement to turn this into the ‘what, when, how and why’ that future innovation always needs figuring out the sorting of the essentials to ‘fuel it’.

It can assist in the evidence-based gathering to exploit (h1), extend or expand (h2) and to explore(h3) how the existing core will grow and be seeded or orientated in future ways. It can be a significant contributor to providing the vision, values and beliefs that an organization can orient towards and work towards.

It can help us break out of existing mindset traps through its evolutionary steps to clarify, explore and identify all the different voices and then explain the “how and where we move towards as our innovating future”.

The 3H is a frame that I genuinely believe is an essential management method for innovation’s good management practice.

In Summary of its innovating value to you and your organization

I believe the 3H framing technique that can structure the evolution of the innovation needed within organizations.

It can be based on existing evidence or as we learn, building evidence-based change, so we can use its framing to adjust to new information and knowledge or be adjusted as the changes occurring, that happen in the years ahead, as the organizations moves towards their innovating future. It can offer a solid structure to the (strategic) decisions that then have to be made.

Why can’t it additionally become an essential visualizing tool, no different from where the Business Model Canvas has established itself?

It is a frame that should be an essential management method or framing technique that can structure the evolution of the innovation needed, based on existing evidence or as we learn. We use its framing to adjust to new learning or as changes are occurring in the years ahead and the 3H does give a very essential part of the narrative of innovation, something we often lack.


Go to the “search” on this site and enter “three horizons” you can view the different articles I’ve published on this, or equally you can download these within different summary series, within my “insights and thinking” page, under the three horizons. They do offer a detailed build on this framework to bring it all together.

2 thoughts on “The Compelling Value of the 3H for Innovation Management

  1. Pingback: How do you apply the three horizon framework in your thinking? Steve Blank you are limiting your thinking. | Paul4innovating's Innovation Views

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