Three Horizons: The Patterning of Hope
Nominated for The 2014 Most Significant Futures Works
The Three Horizons Model is recommended by Dr Alison Wicks and Dr Maggie Jamieson in 'New Ways for Occupational Scientists to Tackle “Wicked Problems” Impacting Population Health', Journal of Occupational Science (2014).
"...we encourage occupational scientists to embrace the Three Horizons (Sharpe, 2013), a simple and intuitive framework for thinking about the future and how to bring about positive change.
Developed over several years by members of the International Futures Forum, this framework creates an awareness of the future potential of the present, a “future consciousness” (Sharpe, 2013, p. 8), enabling a mindset to create a future that society needs and wants.
... The Three Horizons framework has been used effectively by various groups to create transformative change and innovation (Sharpe, 2013, pp.65–85). According to Sharpe, transformative change results from re-patterning the way people do things rather than merely extending current patterns. Given the nature of the wicked problems impacting on population health, we believe occupational scientists need to investigate ways and
means of initiating transformative change as their contribution to research on the uncertain future that lies ahead. We believe that to tackle wicked problems such as climate change, occupational scientists and others need to do research differently and re-conceptualise the future. The Three Horizons framework can assist in enabling members of research teams to start conversations about innovative ways of creating a transformed future." Read the full paper in Journal of Occupational Science
Once the Three Horizons is understood and embedded in thinking and working, there’s no going back...
"Three Horizons is more than a tool to describe the Litany of change. It’s also a way to surface different perspectives on an issue in a very overt way, and to move beyond those seemingly intractable perspectives to collaborative ways of thinking about possible futures, or ‘holding transformational dialogue which informs our action in the complexity of the present while respecting the unknowability of the future'…
Like all frameworks, the Three Horizons is only useful and relevant if it fits the context in which one is working and living. So far, I’ve found it useful in different ways in client contexts and in my own scanning as a way to map out the scope of change being faced. The Three Horizons is not just a tool for understanding change and transformation though. It’s also a way to understand the power of intent and hope—individual and collective—as we look towards the future.
And like all things transformational and developmental, once the Three Horizons is understood and embedded in thinking and working, there’s no going back."
Maree Conway, Founding Partner: The Centre for Australian Foresight, writing in The Association of Professional Futurists' Compass Newsletter. Read the full review.
“How can an eclectic group of experts, with very different worldviews, come to a shared vision for the future? Using the Three Horizons framework, skilled facilitators achieved the seemingly impossible and enabled the Carnegie Commission for Rural Community Development to agree a compelling, inspiring and hopeful blueprint for the future of rural communities. Now Bill Sharpe reveals the full potential for this way of thinking to generate practical hope in all kinds of complex policy areas.”
Kate Braithwaite, Operations Director, UnLtd and formerly Carnegie UK Trust
“We need to pass from worrying about the future to constructively engaging upon its creation. For all those interested in this task, this book delivers a powerful way of thinking about that future in qualitatively different horizons. If we want transformation to be more than just an aspiration, then we need to position it and to understand the dilemmas that define progress towards a better society. This book helps with that positioning and puts discipline into the process of foresight.”
Professor Peter Kawalek, Manchester Business School
“Every so often a new futures method comes along that opens up new ways of seeing the future. Three Horizons is such a method. It links the present to possible futures, and embodies ways of identifying strategic and innovation challenges. Bill Sharpe, one of the Three Horizons pioneers, has written a valuable primer on its theory and emerging practice.”
Andrew Curry, The Futures Company Read more
“Three Horizons provides a valuable tool for understanding the complexity hidden in past trends and the choices always implicit in the apparent determinism of future possibilities. An intelligent approach to seeing into the future demands both insight into the underlying forces driving surface events and the imagination to know that what appears self-evident may be only the result of a pattern of logic that fails to take fully into account the future play of those forces. Bill Sharpe’s book helps us break out of the Newtonian deterministic thinking that so often blinds us to the choices we have made and reveals our power to alter them.”
Garry Jacobs, Chairman and CEO of the World Academy of Arts and Sciences
“It has been a privilege to work with Pierre Wack and Bill Sharpe in thinking about the future and turning it into action. Both understand visionary action planning at its best.”
Napier Collyns, Co-founder, Global Business Network
The Case Studies
From a review by David Bent
Let’s be inspired by Three Horizons: The Patterning of Hope.
‘Three Horizons: The Patterning of Hope’ by Bill Sharpe is a tremendous book for anyone who works on profound change. Below I hope I can give you a flavour of it, and why I was inspired. My key takeaway: rather than aiming for distant, definitive visions, we would be better to act from a shared awareness of the future potential in this present moment.
Last autumn I read Three Horizons: The Patterning of Hope, at the suggestion of my then-colleague, Forum for the Future’s Director of Futures, James Goodman. Thank goodness I did. Few books have resonated with me as much on the overwhelming messiness of profound, social change. In a time of Trump and Brexit, and of us still driving climate change even though we are putting civilisation at risk, it gave me hope and it gave shifted my modus operandi.
Here I’m going to write about it in 3 sections:
A. What are the key features?
B. What are the steps in a Three Horizons process?
C. What are the deep implications for those taking part in profound change?
A. What are the key features? At its core, Three Horizons uses, well, three horizons as a simple framing device:
Simple, right? Well, there’s more going on under the surface. For one thing, the method “naturally turns towards systemic patterns rather than individual events or unexamined trends”. Today is not a frozen thing to which change needs to ‘happen’. Instead, with this method, we “become aware that everything…is just part of a slow process of change, embedded in other processes that extend out as far as we want to explore.”
For another thing, the future is not distant from today. Each of the three horizons exist “always in the present moment, and that we have evidence about the future in how people (including ourselves) are behaving now”.
Equipped like this, we can start to understand the world differently. At every moment, we are taking part in patterns. We are choosing to reinforce the most prevalent (the H1), or to evoke the most transformative (H3), or to test an innovation that might work a bit in the today while expressing some of the transformation (H2). For the most part, most people most of the time are reinforcing the prevalent – there is a positive fit between our established routines and the world around us. It is the “settled way things are done round here”, and it reinforces itself.
If our context is in a constant process of becoming, then what fits now will not fit forever. As our context changes, we find our established routines no longer deliver. Then we face a choice: more of the same, or explore finding a new fit by trying out new behaviours...
B. What are the steps? When it comes to acting for deliberate change, the book argues that it is “natural, in almost any situation where people are working on some complex issue, to gently bring out the three ‘voices’ of the horizons: the managerial voice that is concerned with the first horizon responsibility for keeping things going; the entrepreneurial voice of the second horizon that is eager to get on and try new things (some of which won’t work); and the aspiration and vision of the third horizon voice that holds out for commitment to a better way and the opportunity that can be imagined in the mind’s eye.”...
C. What are the deep implications for those taking part in profound change? So far so good, right? A nice strategic planning method. Well, yes, and. And there is another you can go to, if you want.
The book develops the relationship between these three concepts of horizons, transformation and future consciousness around the following five propositions:
It implies being able to hold an on-going conversation between a variety of actors which allows them to craft a new pattern which respects all of their differences about the world, and their role in it...
In short, I can act from my personal understanding of the three horizons, and that action will affect the patterns of which I am part. That is one source of hope, because I have agency (which is not the same as infinite power). But, greater than this, if we can act from our wider understanding of the three horizons, then we can affect the patterns of which we are all part. Such is the shared cultural practice of transformational change – and this is a greater source of hope...
For me, this inspirational quote is the best way to conclude writing about an inspirational book:
“The foundation of hope is the belief that in acting from our own sense of human integrity we are, in however small a way, creating the possibility of a wider pattern of human renewal around us.”
Read the full review