Navigating the Three Horizon Framework

Navigating the Three Horizon FrameworkThis blog is the fourth in a  series introducing and exploring the three horizon model more extensively. As I’ve previously illustrated the Three Horizon Approach is a more than valuable one for you to begin to build the necessary structure into your thinking about its evolutionary place bridging strategy and innovation. Here I outline the suggested tools to apply to the different horizons.

This suggested framework helps your thinking to construct the different activities into their appropriate space for deciding what resources to commit to them. By breaking these up into their different needs you begin to break down the ‘debate’ on what and where to place your emphasis, resources and thinking in clearer time frames of attainment. The discussions become far more ‘framed’ and allow for a clarity and can often defuse needless debates and fuel more ‘mature’ ones.

Three horizons does have a distinct structure

This is an emerging framework to help in navigating through this three horizon evolutionary approach so innovation can  be ‘housed’ more closely within your strategic thinking, intent and goals and resources can be assessed and allocated appropriately.

The opening need is to define your different horizons

Firstly time is relative; relative to your industry, your situation, your changing circumstances, your level of resources, your commitments. They can often be compressed into one ‘grand plan’ but that is a mistake often made.  You do need to allow different innovation development for its appropriate ‘breathing’ time and evolution. You need to allow certain emerging concepts the space and the time to fully emerge in their potential, while you ‘sweat’ the others that are clearer and more relevant to immediate needs. We often force this into the same ‘pot’ for applying one given mindset and inevitably far to much compromise is then made. It is like a football match, to switch from defensive to offensive needs different mindsets, so does innovation, those needing to enter the market quickly and those that are more nascent requires different management.

Due to this squeezing into the same pot, often applying the same mindset, the end result is  that an initial fantastic concept has been sacrificed on the demand for immediate needs. We are often far too impatient in the development process. By not having a framework that look across different horizons and requires different approaches, understanding and appreciation, we often end up in producing less than the early promise suggested, with a stream of never ending incremental innovation because of this impatience and wrong framing approach. We need to change our way of valuing innovation and recognize there are different time horizons than just a calendar year or operational business cycle approach. Great innovation ‘beats’ to its own timing.

If we could establish a better innovation timing model clarifying where each part fits we can potentially raise our game and deliver more distinctive, disruptive and radical innovations. Our ‘fixation’ on the business result cycle hampers innovation. The Three Horizon Methodology attempts to break that business cycle and offer the innovation cycle as the right way forward.

You can separate out each horizon for its value and time and provide a convincing case within your organization on this.

The Value-Time within the Three Horizons

An emerging framework to help navigate across the different horizons

This is my view of the distinctive aspects of navigation across the three horizon framework and where you shift your emphasis to ‘adjust’ your thinking and mindset to reflect the different horizon and aspects required to ‘see things differently’. We are familiar with nearly all of these business approaches, what I have completed is where they are far more appropriate as the planning out tools and communicating means.

Please take your time to work through each of these, they are distinctive in what they emphasis for good reason and they ‘feed into’ the current make up of business understanding. I would suggest this would allow for across the organization acceptance and recognition as logical and can help innovation to navigate across time horizons that all, will hopefully, understand as the evolutionary path needed.

Navigation across the Three Horizons Framework

I believe they fit well to achieve the different thinking through and change in mindset.

Summarizing the three horizons framework

The three horizon framework has real value. Not only in scenario building, supporting known data and facts but allowing for developing ‘ranging’ alternatives for the future. It can be the thinking through methodology  to gather often conflicting voices around a framework that asks for different mindsets, different understandings and different needs. Each of the horizons has a characteristic behaviour over a given time.

How you frame innovation, spotting firstly emerging dilemma’ and, then working through the tensions that occur between the focus on today’s business and the needs of adapting to tomorrows is critical to manage well.  By supplying a organizing framework that manages immediate innovation needs with the more futurist ones based  not just the ability to detect those weak signals but to frame it in different evolutionary ways to explore options, of where the markets will  possibly radically alter in the future, then you are better positioned to seize and shape your place within this changed environment.

If you can offer a way to manage these different innovation time horizons through this suggested Three Horizon Methodology you can make a clear contribution to alignment of the business, its strategy with its innovation for a healthier future and a framework that becomes recognized as the way to manage the differences.

The Three horizon methodology can relate your existing drivers of innovation to trend-based futures to emerging issues that might offer real breaking opportunity. It links today to the future as a process of change to evolve through. You can build a more plausible and coherent future if you map these through the three horizons from a current more prevailing one to ones that can be explored for the future.

A final comment

Gary Hamel remarked “I don’t think you shuffle your way from one S Curve to the other. You have to jump.” The three horizons will help you in your jumping but in evolving ways that provide the great value of linkage.

Resources & References

“Seeing the Multiple Horizons” by Andrew Curry and Anthony Hodgson.  Autumn 2008- Journal of Future Studies.

Baghai M, Coley S & White D, “The Alchemy of Growth – kick starting and sustaining growth in your company”, Orion Business, London, 1999.

Various McKinsey documents on this subject.

Assorted presentations made on the Three Horizons as an emerging concept and some valuable diagrams to build upon.

Its use for a long-term technology change for the UK government under Intelligent Infrastructure Systems by Anthony Hodgson & Bill Sharpe.

The ongoing work of the International Futures Forum, in Scotland in this area.

My thanks to Tim Kastelle for triggering my growing interest even further into managing innovation across different horizons into a far more full blown one of the real recognition of its value.

image credit:

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Paul HobcraftPaul Hobcraft runs Agility Innovation, an advisory business that stimulates sound innovation practice, researches topics that relate to innovation for the future, as well as aligning innovation to organizations core capabilities.

Paul Hobcraft

Paul Hobcraft is recognized for his consistency to champion and informs on innovation. He focuses on building innovation capacity, competencies, and capabilities and promotes innovation in informative, creative and knowledgeable ways, piecing together the broader understanding of innovation. Paul continually constructs a series of novel and relevant frameworks to help advance this innovation understanding and writes mainly through his posting site of where he regularly publishes his thinking and research based on solutions that underpin his advisory, coaching and consulting work at




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No Comments

  1. Kirsten on August 4, 2012 at 4:24 pm

    Interesting intellectual theory. In reality, these three horizons are rarely mutually exclusive. And shouldn’t be. Framing them separately simply creates false silos. IP fail.

  2. Paul Hobcraft on August 5, 2012 at 3:39 am


    This is beyond intellectual theory and you prompted me to recall this:

    According to Professor Clayton Christensen the only way to look into the future is to use theories. “The best way to make accurate sense of the present, and the best way to look into the future, is through the lens of theory.”

    ”Good theory provides a robust way to understand important developments, even when the data is limited.

    “Theory helps to block out the noise and to amplify the signal”.

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