the three horizons

Towards an Ethos of Better

The desire to make things better is what separates the good businesses from the great ones.

Each business we work with has the same drive, the same burning desire, to leave their mark on the world. To leave a legacy. To create change. To make a difference, however big or small.

They are driven by the desire to build better businesses, better teams, and better lives, for themselves, their clients, and the wider communities around them. To challenge what isn’t working in their organisations. To find new and better ways of doing things. To nurture transformation and growth. To become better than they were yesterday or the day before.

There is no ‘end point’ or ‘end goal’ for an ethos of better.

It is a horizon that continually stretches out before us.

New opportunities for change and improvement continually lie ahead.

In the pursuit of better, there will always be new horizons stretching out before us.

Cultivating an ethos of better.

‘Every morning, we get a chance to be different. A chance to change. A chance to be better.’

–Alan Bonner

Change is constant. Our achievements and goals exist within a world of ever-shifting horizons.

An ethos of better is the idea of continuous improvement with new horizons stretching out before us.

We don’t just ‘achieve’ better and stop there.

Better has no finish line.

Better is an attitude, an ethos, a way of life. Better is an infinitely expanding horizon. Better is striving for change, for growth. Better is believing in a vision for a brighter future. Better is always striving for excellence.

Our friends and clients at CHPT3 often talk about the idea of ‘making excellence a habit’.

Excellence is never settling. Excellence is striving for better. Excellence is looking for new ways to improve. Excellence is being the best you can be. Excellence is acknowledging that on some days, our best is great, and on others, our best is not our A-game and that that’s okay. Excellence is acknowledging that perfection is unattainable, but continuing to be the best we can be. The important thing is that we keep striving, keep moving forward, keep looking towards the horizon.

There’s always something better on the horizon.

‘A dream is the bearer of a new possibility, the enlarged horizon, the great hope.’

–Howard Thurman

We can think about cultivating an ethos of better in terms of horizons.

When approaching the question of change and innovation in our organisations, we can envision it in the context of three horizons, or three overlapping perspectives:

  • Horizon 1 (H1): continued innovation that keeps things running as usual.

This is continuing to do what you’re doing to keep the business operational and ‘keep the lights on’. You could be making small tweaks and improvements to your business, but not enough to create lasting change. As the world around us changes, elements of this first horizon are eventually replaced by new and better ways of doing things.

  • Horizon 2 (H2): innovations that tip the scale and fundamentally shift the status quo.

This is the tipping point where short to medium term change happens. This could be achieved by implementing new systems or software in your business, streamlining your model, or the way you deliver your products or services to customers.

  • Horizon 3 (H3): radical innovation and transformation that leads to an ideal imagined future.

This is the ‘big goal’, or what you set out to do when you first started your business. You could achieve it by coming up with a completely new business model, going against the grain, doing things differently from your competitors, and coming up with innovative, new models that shake up the industry and lead to lasting, long-term change.

Together, these three horizons form a model for how we might think about and approach innovation within our organisations.

The Three Horizons Model defines a pattern for short, medium, and long-term change, and how these waves of change might bring us closer to our dream or big vision, represented by the third horizon.

Ever-shifting horizons.

‘Every horizon, upon being reached, reveals another beckoning in the distance. Always, [we are] on the threshold.’

–W. Eugene Smith

What’s fitting about the concept of a horizon is that there is no endpoint– new horizons continually stretch before us.

When we arrive at our ideal future, our vision for ‘better’, it becomes our present, with a new ideal future stretching out in the distance.

Picture yourself standing on top of a mountain, trees, lakes, and valleys stretching towards you and vast blue skies as far as the eye can see. You look towards the farthest point in the distance, where the land meets the sky, and see the sun sinking down towards the horizon.

That is where you want to be.

Yet every time you step forward, that horizon shifts further away.

As hard as you try, you can never ‘reach’ the horizon- once you arrive at the point where the horizon originally appeared before you, you are presented with a new horizon stretching out ahead.

This is how the three horizons model works.

With change and innovation, with an ethos of better, there is no ‘end point’. Even when we reach our ‘big goal’, our ‘vision’, our ‘third horizon’, that becomes our new starting point, our new first horizon, with new second and third horizons stretching out in the future.

‘From the perspective of the present moment, H3 describes regenerative cultures capable of constant learning and transformation in adaptation to and anticipation of change. Yet, as we approach H3, it recedes, or better, it transforms in response to wider systemic change. By the time we reach the cultural maturity that we today describe in terms of the third horizon, this H3 will have turned into the new H1 and we will face new and unpredictable challenges that will require us to take a new H3 perspective. The pilgrimage towards a sustainable and regenerative future has an endless string of false summits. As we reach the top of the green summit (H3) of our horizons map, we stand on the red ground of our new H1. Looking ahead with future consciousness we see the new second and third horizons stretched out in front of us.’

Daniel Christian Wahl, ‘The Three Horizons of innovation and culture change’

Remember to stop and enjoy the view.

‘Too many times we get so caught up in moving forward we forget to appreciate where we are and what we have.’

–Shaddona Richards

To be human is to project ourselves into the future. It is to be entangled in the push and pull of our present and future stories.

An unwavering focus on endless improvement can be unrelenting. At times, it can be daunting and mentally exhausting.

Keep moving forward, keep climbing the summit, keep your eyes on the horizon, but remember to stop and enjoy the view.

Take the time to appreciate where you are now and how far you’ve come. Where you are now is better than you were before, and that’s worth celebrating.

As our Client Director, Jared puts it, ‘find the balance between identifying opportunities for improvement and recognising a job well done.’

Keep your horizons in perspective and remember the importance of finding balance and harmony. Of being present. Of knowing when to take a break. Of making time for rest. Of celebrating where you are and what you have right now. Of accepting that it’s okay to not always know the next step, what lies beyond the next horizon. That uncertainty can be part of growth. Of remembering to enjoy the space between where you are now and where you want to be.

Don’t get so caught up in chasing horizons that you forget to enjoy the here and now.

Widening your horizons.

‘We have always held to the hope, the belief, the conviction that there is a better life, a better world, beyond the horizon.’

–Franklin D. Roosevelt

Change begins with the desire to make things better.

Keep moving forward, keep trying new things, keep expanding your horizons, but in the pursuit of better, remember to make time for rest, reflection, and celebration.

Change begins with one step.

As we move towards the future that beckons us on the horizon, imagine the organisation you want to build and take the first proactive step towards that horizon.