Many possible futures exist. Indigenous peoples were deeply connected with their environment. They understood the power of speech on one’s destiny. In the wilderness, threats to survival loomed large. Noise attracted unwanted attention. They watched more and spoke less. When men spoke, their word was law. They listened to birds, animals and watched nature to see the future. Progress has made us lazy. Our foresight has been replaced by our insatiable minds with their constant chatter. As a talking bird, the raven had mythical status. Like a coyote, the raven became a mediator between this world and future worlds. In the HBO series, Game of Thrones, when Brandon Stark becomes the Three-Eyed Raven, he is able to time travel and sees possible futures.
In business, timing is the most important determinant of success. Seeing possible futures, before they arrive, places a business in the best position to choose between options. The Three Horizons for Growth framework offers a way to understand both current and future options for growth. Consider three ways of seeing. The first is Building. Building for our business means continuously improving what we currently do and scaling it in ways that maximise our ROI (return on investment).
However, we need to see further. Before business models reach their use by dates, we need innovative ideas and to see clearly what our business can become. A second way of seeing is via Migration. Migration is a process of accelerating qualified, value-driven future ideas and functioning prototypes towards the present. Our next business iteration might be enhanced products, untapped markets or migration along the value chain. For example, we might migrate backwards into manufacturing or migrate forward into retail stores. Deciding between Migration options requires an NPV (net present value) calculation, using the expected future cash flows and required rates of return for each option.
Beyond Building and Migration is a vast unknown horizon. This is a world of unfettered Exploration, beyond the confines and conditioned mindsets of regular business. Exploration is the world of future options, uncertainty and disruptive innovation. It is the domain of the Three-Eyed Raven and the Lean Startup. Leaders support Exploration when employees are allowed, or even better, paid to tinker and incur small financial losses in the process. Let loose to ‘bootleg’, creative employees can inevitably stumble on something rather significant! 3M was once a failed Quarry Mining Business. Coke started as a Pharmaceutical. Apple made circuit boards for Home Computer Builders. Each was prepared to re-imagine their businesses, based on the value of the options they were exploring.
Beyond the next horizon are only options. Options are often superior to strategies. Many firms create strategic plans based on fixed mindsets, that are built on pre-approved budgets and past patterns, which is why these strategic plans rarely have any teeth. Other times, firms include their values, vision and mission in their strategy and use it as an employee behavioural change tool, which at best, gives potency in relation to day to day activities.