Today we grapple with more uncertainty than ever before. For many of us this is the time of year when planning out the future becomes more ‘top of mind’. These are moments where we have to stop chasing the daily numbers, pushing the immediate projects that are in the pipeline and turn our attention to laying out our future plans. Sadly we often make a poor ‘stab’ at this thinking through process; we don’t get our thinking into the right mental frames.
Help is at hand if you care to grab it!
The other way is to stop and think about this very differently. For this we need to develop different mindsets, ones that change, ones that can allow us to think in different time horizons.
Managing innovation not just in today’s operational horizon (h1) but in traversing into the future with more breakthroughs (h2) and transformational innovation (h3) that is organized around the three horizon methodology.
The three horizons ‘asks you’ to apply three totally different mindsets to see constraints, weaknesses and often very limited opportunities differently, often called “weak signals”, it alters your thinking into a far more evolutionary approach. We just do not allow our thinking to open up to this evolutionary approach.
Recognizing that zone of uncertainty
The problem for management is any discussion of the future enters the ‘zone of uncertainty’ and this ability to often ‘read the tea leaves’ can very much determine the future health and direction of the organization. Ignore these shifts or signals and you are on the path to your own ‘destruction’.
Not only should we search for possibilities that extend and strengthen our existing core offerings but we should search out on a wider basis.
Often we make a complete mess of this planning out of our future.
We have not prepared as we should have done, we take what we are doing and project that forward, adding a few tweaks to give it a more ‘innovative’ feel that continues the incremental path we all so easily like to work in.
We stay trapped in our existing thinking, due to a lack of time or a lack of encouragement to think differently, to challenge our existing approaches to business. We tend to look more at extending products but we only play a little with business model alternatives and rarely with ideas that stretch our minds or pick up on these “weak signals”. We stay trapped within our existing bodies.
Can we attempt to break free? How about if we broke our thinking down into separate steps?
Different mindsets and discussions are based on (h1) operational: the here and now, (h2) more entrepreneurial: attempting to detect shifts and adjusting in agile ways, (h3) more futuristic: based on values, visions and beliefs. Each needs separating.
a) Firstly we set about to clarify the burning needs relating to your present position and link these to your known strategy and approaches but keep questioning this to keep it fresh and relevant to ever-changing market conditions.
b) Try a technique like concept boarding that can capture the emerging trends so you can begin to put together plausible ideas that may be those emerging winning needs (h3) you begin to articulate and frame these. These start to shape your decisions on where to focus your ‘future’ resources as you search for emerging winners.
c) Then you begin to think through the “space for transition” (h2) to begin to reflect and start working through that constant dilemma of “protecting core or investing in new” debates. You are beginning to shape an ‘emerging’ strategy that really brings your thinking out.
d) The end result is you are beginning to explore fundamental different premises for replacing “business as usual” with exploring nascent ideas. Then you need to seek out the appropriate platform, a strategic planning meeting, to explore these.
e) Often these H3, even some in H2 are weak signals today where many unknowns prevail but allow you to straddle between (h1) improve, (h2) extend and (h3) change. You begin to see these differently; you begin to plan them differently.
What emerges is more uncertainly know you need to map and ‘attack’ this
We are moving across ‘transitional ‘points. We do need this longer-term perspective and we do need to traverse into the future in clear thinking through steps (or horizons). Our horizon one (h1) does begin to decay faster today than ever, it does not fully cover off the strategic fit we want and can begin to lose its dominance over time. We need to manage this transition, not let others, our competitors or new entrants, manage it for us.
It is how we manage this transition becomes so critical. We need to exploit developing trends that are emerging (h2) and begin to tune into possible options in the future (h3). Within these options will emerge the winners and become the more dominant systems or solutions that we should be moving towards, even from today. Some of these only have faint emerging signals but they need to be brought into the innovation portfolio activity to explore, often in novel ways.
The horizon two is beginning to address some of the current decay arising from the core within the existing activities (or system). Here we have the highest tension.
The discussions that center on often conflicting views of the future, compared to the existing realities and those providing the returns for today’s business. Often we can detect change but we consciously ignore them. This is the place where the disruptor’s are at work, existing or new competitors, working at displacing your products and market positions
Managing the rising stars or a future transforming one is hard in existing structures.
The concepts that emerge from horizon two will include the rising stars of the organization and will, over time, become even the new core business. These are a mixture of step-outs from today’s core, or extensions that have come from the adjacent work consciously being undertaken or are truly emerging as new activities that need new depth in capabilities and time to build.
Many executives ‘defending’ the core will ‘attack’ or hold back any release of their resources to help these emerging initiatives. It is a ‘hard-nosed’ reality. It needs a very high level and conscious set of decisions coming from the top to determine these new moves. Do not believe that when most executives ‘just’ react and shrug their shoulders regarding h2 as a natural, everyday occurrence, it is far from not.
Many have to come ‘kicking and screaming’ to supporting emerging activities. Far too much ‘invested’ interest comes into play. They see this more as a threat not an opportunity. It is not their sand box so why should they ‘play’. These positions need drawing out and how you execute on your thinking will help.
Horizon two is where you work through your future options
This is where you try out, experiment, explore. This is the transiting point (my space of transition and zone of uncertainty) where you work through different dilemmas and paradoxes to shift the organisation through this horizon two to position it for the longer-term future. This horizon is a real point of disruption to be well-managed as you navigate from shifting resources from today’s core to that third horizon, the predicted future where ideas and proposals are still forming.
The ‘zone of uncertainty’ needs more of your time
Horizon two actually ‘claims’ more time and attention than on the surface it deserves but this is the wrong thinking approach, it simply needs too. This is not about supporting the ‘existing’, this is working actively on the ‘preferred’. It is working to reduce current shortcomings, injecting new life and vigour into the present to offer a broader sustaining future.
Horizon two investments should be challenging ‘business as usual’ and should contain many of the catalysts for renewal, for the future growth. It is renewing the ‘fitness for purpose’ through innovation taking you along different pathways to the long-term successors of your business.
You owe it to your innovation managing to think in different mindsets and horizons.
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Paul 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.