One of the methods IFF has developed to encourage a longer term perspective is the three horizons model of social change (see below). This shows a ‘first horizon’ system losing strategic fit and therefore dominance over time; a ‘second horizon’ of innovations seeking to exploit the opportunities emerging in a changing world; and a ‘third horizon’ in tune with deeper trends in society that eventually emerges as the new dominant system – perhaps a generation from now.
Some of the second horizon innovations will ease the pathway towards the third horizon. Others will be absorbed by the first to extend its life a little longer, working against the grain of longer term changes in the operating environment.
This distinction recalls Clayton Christensen’s description of the difference between ‘sustaining innovation’ that improves the efficiency and prolongs the life of existing systems and ‘disruptive innovation’ that disrupts or subverts those systems. The three horizon model shows that if we take a longer view there is also a third form of innovation – transformative innovation – that intentionally shifts existing systems towards a wholly new sustainable way of operating in the changed environment.
Without this longer term, transformative perspective, all innovation inevitably tends to improve and prolong existing systems – which are inherently unsustainable in today’s changing world. This ‘innovation’ props up the past rather than investing in the future.
IFF practises and encourages transformative innovation.