The Three Horizons- How to pattern the future


The Three Horizon methodology was developed by Bill Sharpe to provide a simple framework to envision the future and how to engage in constructive conversations about how to achieve that future, This becomes all the more critical in an environment which is uncertain and complex.

The three Horizons framework, to me, is a powerful reboot tool which we need to keep in our toolbox for an environment that we are currently into.. It allows us to coordinate disruptive innovations and create transformative change which has the best chance to succeed.

As per the methodology, envisioning the future always needs to deal with three horizons at play, which are always there, with the capacity to impact the future.

Y Axis is the dominant thinking or WorldView.

The first horizon ‘H1’ is all about how business is done at present, but there is something in it which is not fit for the future. It thus contains the seed of its own demise over a period of time.

The third horizon ‘H3’ is the future we desire and there do exist green shoots of that today. We would like them to grow and become the predominant way of doing business in future, replacing and improving upon H1.

The second horizon ‘H2’ is the most interesting space as this is where disruptive innovation takes place. Disruption can take many forms. It could be technology fueled like the Electric car, it could be event fueled like the current COVID19 pandemic or it could socially fueled like Occupy. Disruptions usually lead to innovations, new ways of Doing or Being. The opportunity of change actually exists in the space between the crests of H1 and H3.

The key question would be, “How would the disruptive innovation effect the transformation between H1 and H3?” To answer this, we will take the example of the current predominant transportation technology using the  Internal Combustion engine. This is a H1 model which has survived over a century with its negative impact of Carbon footprint and Climate Change.

Now let us look at the disruptive innovation of Hybrid Technology. This technology actually is the creation of the old world H1 horizon. The problems of H1 are somewhat reduced in this innovation but remain; they in fact get accentuated by addition of another layer of technology on top of the existing one with suboptimal utilisation of either of them. This is called the “H2-” innovation as it is captured by old dominant structures to extend the life of H1 horizon. Why we are using the word ‘capture’ here is because its innovative energy is not being used to help the H3 horizon to emerge.

In contrast now let us consider the same disruptive innovation technology but now paired with the H3 horizon, to support the emerging future to emerge and help to hasten the decline of H1. It would be the pure Electric car technology of Tesla, which essentially is a transformative exercise of building some kind of a computer on wheels; it is envisaging the future ground up. This is called “H2+”.

For the 3 Horizons Reboot tool to be effective, we need to do an enquiry based on three questions:

  1. What is being born and how could we support it emerge and succeed?
  2. What is dying and how can we help it to let go?
  3. What is being disrupted and how can we harness it as in H2+, not be captured as in H2- ?

Enquiry questions for conversation about how to achieve the future:

H1 Horizon :

What is business as usual, the key characteristics of the prevailing system?

How did we get here, what values, cultures, regulations, events led to this?

Why do we believe it is failing its purpose and no longer a good fit? How fast do we want to see its decline?

Is there anything about the old system that we would wish to retain rather than lose?

H3 Horizon:

What is the future that we would like to bring about, its key characteristics, how it looks like, feels like to be there?

What are the green shoots of that future visible in the present?

Whose ideas and work are the present possibilities built on? What history, values, culture are they embedded upon?

How can the possibilities be scaled and spread?

What are the competing visions of the future being pursued by others? Can we collaborate with them or are these essentially competing visions? If the latter, how do we prevent their vision from derailing ours?

H2 Horizon:

What is being disruptive in terms of technology, social, economic, ecological and cultural aspects? What are the roots of those disruptions? For each of those identified, what would it look like if captured as in H1-? Or harnessed as in H2+? What could be strategically done to ensure it is harnessed?

If you are a disruptive actor viz, Tech. Innovator, social movement etc. what kind of guidance can you set for yourself to ensure that your disruption is harnessed under H3 ( H2+) rather than captured under H1 )H1-)? What allies will you seek, what actions will you take, how will you assess potential offers of collaboration or finance?

In Learning…..

Shakti Ghosal

Acknowledgements :

  1. Three Horizons : A Pathways practice for Transformation by Bill Sharpe, Anthony Hodgeson et al , Ecology and Society, June 2016. https://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol21/iss2/art47/
  2. Three Horizons : Partnering of Hope by Bill Sharpe, Sept.2013

The Reboot Toolbox


It was a simple idea that brought in the Reboot Toolbox. An idea about how to support our own-selves (as well as others) to remain relevant in a world with a new normal?

As part of the Reboot Toolbox initiative, a Webinar titled “Pandemic and how to plug-in to the future” has been showcased over the last couple of weeks to alumni associations, students and employees of Leading B Schools and organisations. The Webinar underlined the premise that different skill sets and way of looking at situations would be needed in the new normal. The webinar introduced to the participants practices using the 4 Action Stage initiatives framework and a Resilience Tool.

how to support our own-selves (as well as others) to remain relevant in a world with a new normal?

The Reboot Toolbox is about a vision to upgrade Leadership and Performance in a world with a new normal. A world in which Uncertainty and Volatility would be the norm. The Reboot Toolbox would strive to bring new thoughts and practices aligned to the new normal.

As part of the vision, I invite you to join the Cause. You could do that in the following manner.

(1) Engage in discussions on the forum.

(2) Contribute thoughts, articles and tools to support others in the journey.

(3) Spread the word about the Reboot Toolbox Webinars within your organisation as also to others. They come Free of Cost!

Should the Reboot Toolbox and its vision resonate for you, do reply back to me Offline on : shakti.ghosal@gmail.com

Stay well, stay safe!

In Learning……..

Shakti Ghosal

Pandemic and how to plug into the future

There is going to be a post Pandemic world. That is a certainty. What is also certain is that the post Pandemic world would require significantly different perspectives and competence set.


“The one thing I’ve personally learned is you’ve got to get ahead of the curve, don’t try to deny it or put your head in the sand, and wish for the best. These are the times when a culture and an organization gets tested”

– Michael Hansen, CEO, Cengage

There is going to be a post Pandemic world. That is a certainty. What is also certain is that the post Pandemic world would require significantly different perspectives and competence set; we would come to live in a world with a new normal.

The pandemic is a black swan event. What that implies is that none of us have faced anything like it before. What happens when we are confronted with something about which we know nothing about? We become like the caveman in the dark of the night, neither able to see the path to the safety of our cave nor know whether a saber tooth is lurking nearby waiting to pounce. Neurochemicals flood our brain, we become geared to fight or take flight.

In the present day context, a black swan event leads to our primal brain conditioning kicking in. We get drawn into the uncertain and the total lack of knowledge aspects of the event. The more we try, the more we fail to make sense. We feel dis-empowered, make assumptions and frequently adopt high risk strategy without much thought or evaluation. When we fail we are quick to blame the VUCA (the volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity) inherent in the environment. In short we are disrupted.  

Why do we get disrupted? Because we keep on trying to predict what would happen in the future. We keep on working with probabilities. But since a black swan event has no precedence, allowing no experience from our past to guide us, we fail.

In a post pandemic world, we need to shift into a mindset of possibilities.

I invite you to do this practise for just one hour a week. During this hour, unplug yourself from the present. Unplug from all your existing challenges and apprehensions. Unplug from your inherent belief system which is telling you that once things normalise, you would go back to how things were in the past. This is where the fallacy lies and you need to be aware of that.

Then plug yourself into the future. How do you do that? You do that by establishing hard trends about which you do have significant certainty and do know some facts.

Your One hour a Week practice to plug into the future

You make three lists.

The first list is of all things you are certain of.

The second list is of all those things and aspects which you know, which are part of your competences.

The final list is of all things you can do.

This very act of making these lists would shift your mindset and open up possibilities. This leaves you empowered, you evaluate to choose low risk strategy, thereby gaining confidence and focus. As you succeed, you become a disruptor in the new world.

As you practise, you would become more proficient to determine the hard trends. You would become Anticipatory as you develop the capacity for future back thinking. You stand in the created future and look back to establish what actions and strategy you need to work on today to make the future happen.

  1. How might you deliver business and revenue goals, organisational growth and marketplace success in a post pandemic environment?
  2. How would you make sense of what might put brakes on organizational velocity in the post pandemic environment and how to un-brake?
  3. How might you get high performance from team members in the uncertainty of the post pandemic world ?

In Learning……

Shakti Ghosal