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Three Horizon Mindsets

November 22, 2017

When a group of futurists gathered at the ProDev day organised by the Association of Professional Futurists, some of the learning most welcomed was around Three Horizons.

Many of us were familiar with the model and had used it successfully with clients. The model is often represented as here.


Horizon 1 takes into account the current working assumptions and systems. These are the global trends that we take for granted when we make decisions.

  • Example – demographics – society is beginning to see the need for major adjustments because of the ongoing trend in many global regions for decreasing family size and decreasing or stabilising populations, and the trend for people to live longer.

Horizon 3 is about changes emerging that are completely new paradigms and ways of understanding and undertaking various human activities. What are visionary leaders saying?

Horizon 2 is about immediate changes you see which represent a transition or accommodation for evolving tensions as current assumptions and work patterns obsolesce, and transformative changes erupt into possibility What opportunities do you see? What are entrepreneurs building?

  • Example – the CEO of GM, Mary Barra is saying “I believe we will see more change in our industry in the next five to ten years than we have in the last 50. I’m talking about huge improvements in vehicle electrification, connectivity, propulsion, safety, and even cars that drive themselves. We are at the start of a technological revolution that is going to change the way we drive and interact with our cars, trucks, and crossovers”

What was new in our discussions and caused a number of ‘Ahas’ was a role-play led by Bill Sharpe and Graham Leicester. Each syndicate chose a topic – in our case communication between governments and the public. Then we argued what to do about it. Some of us took the role of a manager (H1), others of an entrepreneur (H2) and others a visionary (H3). The insights came from the discussion as the participants – naturally many naturally H3 people – wrestled with taking a H1 or H2 position.

H1 people are worried about budgets, timescales and delivering with the staff they have been allocated – and are the de facto holders of power. So positive reactions to H2 proposals could include “This could help refresh our current position” or “This provides a source of ideas”. As a natural H2 entrepreneur, I might in the past have dismissed such signals of potential support, while recognising only too well “This diverts essential resources”, “this could have unintended consequences” and “This creates potential (internal) competition”.

In talking to people with H3 mindsets – the visionaries – H1 managers might react positively with comments like “This will be needed for our grandchildren” or “This may well be the future even though it appears remote”. Negative responses would be unambiguous, for instance, “this makes no sense to us”, This is irrelevant dreaming” or “This is dangerous and should be stopped”.

These helped the H2 and H3 role players frame their stance in order to avoid standoff, and bears study by anybody who is interested in helping more people and organisations think usefully about the future and how to prepare for it.

The event was called Tools for Hope and in addition to the session on Three Horizons had excellent sessions by SAMI Associates Patricia Lustig and Martin Hazell on Appreciative Inquiry, SAMI Principal Dr Wendy Schultz on tools for visioning, and Tanja Hichert on the Anthropocene Project.

The materials that were used on the day by the presenters can be found here. The links are lightly underlined, or highlighted when you run your cursor over them.

There are additional resources on the Books and Articles page.

Written by Gill Ringland, SAMI Fellow Emeritus.

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily of SAMI Consulting.

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