• Future Pathways

Diagrams that aren’t boring: Three Horizons

A simple framework to get everyone speaking the same language.

One of the greatest difficulties in driving change within an organization is that there are often groups holding different visions who compete against each other for attention and resources.

There are few mechanisms that are able to nurture understanding between these different groups, while allowing them to see they can all collaborate and contribute to the future success of the enterprise.

Three Horizons is a deceptively simple framework, designed by some of the world’s leading systems thinkers, which can get groups with different perspectives on the future to work out what needs to be done today.

It consists of only three lines on a page, but it has the same power to transform as the five lines in music notation which give musicians the information about how different instruments relate to each other (as well as how loud or soft to play).

The first line, Horizon 1 (H1), represents the dominant system, or business as usual. For example, in the case of transport, it would be the internal combustion engine. While once upon a time the motor engine represented a revolution (compared with horse-drawn vehicles), in a carbon-constrained world it is no longer fit for purpose.

Horizon 2 (H2) represents the entrepreneurs who recognize that changes are needed, but seek to develop them in the context of the current system. At its best, these innovations, such as the hybrid vehicle, can act as a bridge to Horizon 3, but they can also be co-opted by those supporting business as usual to prevent the emergence of more radical solutions.

Horizon 3 (H3) represents the radical innovations that can restructure entire systems. They often develop at the fringe, and then move into the mainstream when there is a recognition that the status quo can no longer be sustained. Regarding the transport system, this would be represented by the electrification of all forms of transport.

What the Three Horizons framework, and associated workshops, can do is help the people in each of these three groups learn to respect each other, and see how they can work together to find solutions and adapt to a rapidly changing world.

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