How do you apply the three horizon framework in your thinking? Steve Blank you are limiting your thinking.

Presently the three horizon model is argued as no longer applying to innovation as it has been suggested, or I feel so, in a recent article written by Steve Blank.

Now I am a terrific admirer of Steve and his thinking but he does, I feel, rush to an assumption to fit one specific problem area, most coming from the start-up world. I apply the three horizons from the more mature organizations perspective and in a much wider lens framing approach than clear he does.

Steve Blank, no less, wrote about the problems with applying the three horizons as his view recently. You can read it here. He changed the title from “the fatal flaw of the three horizon model” to “fast time in three horizon high” mainly due to the push back he received from one of the original creators of this framework. It got even further dampened down into a more observational under “McKinsey’s Three horizons Model defined Innovation for years. Here is Why It No Longer Applies” in a Harvard Business Review posting that digs him further into his specific business focus corner that little bit deeper, as his title assumes.

Steve, I have news for you, the three horizons frame is healthy and fit for use, maybe not in your specific application (although I know it can be) but in multiple applications. I am not sure he decided why he became so dismissive on the 3H. “Fatal flaw, fit for use” can confuse a wider audience, many living off his pronouncements, when the value of this 3H frame is even more compelling today than when it was first proposed. It has moved on, not regressed.

Actually, he is wrong again on that initial innovation positioning for the 3H. It was proposed by McKinsey for a growth strategy framework and then others then took its framing principles and applied them differently. The 3H can lend itself to innovation application in multiple ways really well. Not sure the changes in titles conveys his message better than his provocative one of “fatal flaw”, which has been challenged already, with due “diffidence”. The “fatal flaw” might be in his rigid application and not in the many ways you can apply the Three Horizons potential across a broad range of framing techniques.

Steve is absolutely right, speed has made such a difference for every organization to quicken their pace. Each of the horizons has for some come closer together, or as I recommend, need all working in parallel, not one following the other

Actually, I value the three horizons in analyzing a business, its position today and its stated position tomorrow and look for gaps or opportunities to work on the different horizons needs of supporting the present, building capabilities in the near term and exploring the future in imaginative ways. One of the outcomes is more than likely, in most cases, mean adding new competencies, capabilities, and capacity.

Also, the three horizons is a good dialoguing frame to allow each of the voices within an organization to have their opinion “aired” and then the combined voices determine the path forward. I’ve written on that here in a post “Drawing out the different voices within the three horizon methodology for Innovation” and here. “Are you engaging with all the different voices around you?

I also offered up a different perspective on using the Three Horizons as a Wire Frame” Applying the Three Horizon Thinking to a Fresh Perspective of Innovation Design”

Then I looked at how to manage our assets “The New Game Or Is It? Asset Orchestration” talking about modes of commitment to innovation as first suggested by Javier Busquets.

I can go on and on about the potential versatility of the three horizons, just put into search on this posting site “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.

Then to finish here in my push back to Steve and his (restricted) view of the three horizons, in one of my posts “The Compelling Value of the 3H for Innovation Management

He can perhaps open up his thinking a little more on the 3H and its value?

I still think he fails to see this beyond his “relative delivery time” applied to each horizon. He is absolutely right that horizon three deliverables have sped up but I still believe he thinks outside big organizations (thankfully to get alternative thinking) and inside these, the three horizon framework is a great (initial) organizer, to break down the complexity of thinking, if you apply it with some different imaginative thinking.

It gives a portfolio thinking for setting different priories, revealing needs, and expertise to give the renewed intensity of purpose towards each horizon. It breaks down complexity and gives the actually greater intensity of purpose.

The three horizons can be in need updating from its original purpose but if you apply one definition you can miss the real power of its value, I see multiple applications.

I think Steve does a good job of challenging some of the shifts we are undergoing in thinking differently.

Sometimes he does like to sensationalize this but that is partly why he stands out in challenging much. He makes us sit up and listen. His lens, coming from the startup environment challenges many existing ones of the incumbent.  I am always really pleased to see it through his highly “entrepreneurial eyes”.

Today if you apply the three horizons as originally intended it certainly does not solve his basic argument of a speed of deployment and asymmetry but it gets the conversation framed in larger organizations in many imaginative ways if you are prepared to step outside the three horizons original constructs thinking.

Applying the three horizons to breaking down complexity in how we organize and manage and why it needs to be seen in different frames does not go away. It does a great initial job of recognition and allocation, to tackle different challenges of managing change in different ways.

Perhaps Steve is applying his own thinking too rigidly to the three horizons, he might want to open it up in its rich potential of the application. Sometimes leaders might miss the memo as he suggests but also those writing the memo miss important points to restrict and not open us up to alternatives.

Yet as we see business as ones framed in threats, disruption concerns, ways to deploy resources, allow a focus on where to place “thin” resources, apply different techniques for prototyping, minimum viable products, tackling legacy etc there is an amazing richness within this three horizon framework. They are under appreciated.

One day I want to find the opportunity to dig around the greater value than looking through his prism of the “start-up is eating the established business world”. He is totally right that incumbents are facing more challenges from new competitors that make the incumbents business model quicker to becoming obsolete.

If you apply time to the three horizons model you do get what he states but if you take the assigned horizon work and apply the principles of simultaneous working them, you get a level of clarity that most new entrants can never comprehend, as they often do not have the level of insights that the incumbent does.

We need to apply the concept of the three horizons in greater ways for the incumbent, not just as he suggests, through one lens that he seems constrained in this limited application.


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