Horizon scanning for long-term success

category - strategy
type - features
Defend the now, nurture the new, invest in the next. These are the three horizon line markers I advise organisations to focus on when considering their longevity and future success.

While Horizons One and Two are the backbone of profitability, Horizon Three is the motherload where we find those phase-changing disruptions that give our organisations legitimacy, legacy and longevity.

Yet the vast majority of C-suite executives I deal with focus on Horizon 1.5 despite the fact that those game-changing innovations – the internet, AI, the iPhone, quantum, CRISPR – invariably happen in Horizon Three. Or, as Mark Mills indicates in his excellent book, The Cloud Revolution: How the Convergence of New Technologies Will Unleash the Next Economic Boom and A Roaring 2020s, within 20-year cycles that consist of continuous ongoing innovation (COI) across three or more industries that converge, conflate and metamorphose into something completely game-changing, as we will reveal in our Trend Briefing 2023.

As he explains it: ‘Inventions are built on layers and combinations of other more foundational innovations that can be traced back to earlier inventions, insights and discoveries. But history shows that when an iconic innovation arrives – the ones that are seen as pivots in history or ‘disruptive’ – they are made possible by the combination of typically three other enabling inventions that are usually from independent domains, each having reached a level of useful maturity.’

Thus, for an organisation to consider its legacy, cement its legitimacy and ensure its longevity, it needs to focus on COI, and to do it across industry sectors – so multi-sector analysis – rather than within its own sectors and disciplines. After all, as many executives signing up to my strategic networking masterclasses discover, if you look to people or sectors you know for innovation and newness, the chances are they’ll know what you know, and if you know fuck all, then they’re likely to know the same. Thus, effective mapping, monitoring and mining of innovation requires us to focus on weak-tie signals and distant, non-aligned and disparate ‘soft noise’ blips from our Horizon Three timelines.

Published by:

26 August 2022

Author: Martin Raymond

Image: The Future Laboratory


Labmeta for The Future Laboratory

But crucially, we also need to map these in tandem with, rather than separate from, Horizons One and Two workflows and new product development (NPD) activities. Why? Again, as Mills suggests, innovation with tangible product lines at the end of it, such as flatscreen tvs, laptops and iPhones, seem to follow 20-year innovation cycles – Horizon Three timelines in other words – with the wins and successes from three or more industries metamorphosing into one towards the end of this cycle when a noted innovator spots it. An example is Steve Jobs designing the iPhone based on his understanding, monitoring and mapping of advances in integrated circuitry, pocket-sized tv screens and the lithium-ion battery.

More tellingly, as Mills reveals in his book, those BIG, once-in-a-generation game-changers – the internet, quantum, AI, CRISPR, crypto, VR – take about 60 years to mature – Horizon 7 anybody? – which is well beyond the tenure of our average C-suite executive (4.9 years), CEO (6.9 years) or general leadership team member for that matter, 50–70% of which fail within 18 months of being appointed to their job anyway.

Innovation, then – for that read horizon-scanning, mapping, assessing and evaluating – needs to be re-assessed in terms of how we incorporate it into our organisational framework, as well as who should oversee it, and why it needs to be done – for short-term knee-jerkism-gotta-do-something-on-my-watch decision-making or for those three Ls I mentioned at the beginning.

The latter of course! But, as I said, by whom, how and why? Let’s look at that in my next blog post.

Martin Raymond is co-founder of The Future Laboratory and a fellow of the Royal Society of the Arts. You can join his Strategic Networking Masterclass, and his best-selling Trends and Foresight Masterclasses. Further details about our in-person Trend Briefing 2023 at the Royal Academy of Arts can be found here.

Innovation needs to be re-assessed in terms of how we incorporate it into our organisational framework, as well as who should oversee it, and why it needs to be done’
Martin Raymond, co-founder, The Future Laboratory

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