Practices > Three Horizons


Three Horizons is a simple and intuitive tool for thinking about the future. It helps groups explore systemic patterns to identify which of the dominant patterns are no longer fit for purpose, how the emerging trends can shape the future, and what visionary action is needed to collectively move us towards a viable future.

The future can be perceived through three lenses:

Horizon 1: Continue Business as Usual

Horizon 3: Vision of a Viable Future

Horizon 2: Innovation towards the Vision

Three horizons map


The way in which we view the future impacts how we set our priorities and which decisions we make today.

Every person will have their own unique mix of orientation toward the horizon perspectives. If they remain unsurfaced, these orientations can unconsciously impact the quality of decisions as well as team cohesion. 

Learning to work with the Three Horizons enables teams to develop a shared language, freeing up creativity to collectively navigate toward a viable future.


  • Gather diverse stakeholders
  • Host conversations about the future using the Three Horizons methodology
  • Map out the key points as a whole group
  • Use the map to identify where and how to invest resources
  • Build upon understanding by revisiting and updating the map over time
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Three horizons book cover

The three horizons are about much, much more than simply stretching our thinking to embrace the short, medium and long term.  They offer a co-ordinated way of managing innovation, a way of creating transformational change that has a chance of succeeding, a way of dealing with uncertainty and a way of seeing the future in the present.

Three horizons - Horizon 1


First Horizon (H1): Business As Usual

  • Business as usual reaches its peak
  • Starts to decline when the world changes
  • Looses its ‘fit for purpose’
  • Self-reinforcing behavior that no longer achieves desired results
Three horizons - Horizon 3

At the same time…

Horizon 3 (H3): Vision

  • The long-term successor to ‘business as usual’ grows
  • Better fit to the changing world
Three horizons - Horizon 2


Horizon 2 (H2): Innovation

This transition requires…

  • A temporary pattern of new activities & innovations
  • Temporary support for H1
  • Other innovations transition to H3


Three Horizons Webinar

In this webinar, Bill Sharpe gives an introduction to Three Horizons thinking.

Humanizing Health Care

Dr. Margaret Hannah gives an introduction to her book on transforming Healthcare.


Three horizons book

Three Horizons: Patterning of HopeBook by Bill Sharpe

In this beautifully illustrated book,  Bill Sharpe introduces the Three Horizons framework as a prompt for developing a ‘future consciousness’ – a rich and multi-faceted awareness of the future potential of the present moment – and explores how to put that awareness to work to create the futures we aspire to.

Humanising healthcare book

Humanising Healthcare, by Dr. Margaret Hannah

This film records the talk given by author Dr Margaret Hannah at the launch of her book Humanising Healthcare: patterns of hope for a system under strain at the Health Foundation in London. In the talk, she sets out the case that current thinking about health policy and innovation is the product of a modernist mindset that is trapped by a certain set of assumptions. This way of thinking drives us to think we need more money to sustain healthcare systems yet doing so starves us of the possibility of investing in infrastructure to create health. Introducing Three Horizons from IFF, she shows how the presence of a third horizon opens up new ways of thinking and innovating. She presents some important lessons she has learned from the Nuka Model of Health created by Southcentral Foundation in Alaska (an example of the third horizon in the present) before revealing how a shift in mindset can generate a very different system and practice of healthcare which is of better quality and financially sustainable for the long term.

Transformative Innovation in EducationBook by Graham Leicester, Denis Stewart, Keir Bloomer, Jim Ewing

In 2009, the first edition of Transformative Innovation set out a blueprint for educational reform in Scotland. This second edition incorporates the results and practical experience of introducing and managing that reform. The book’s message has resonated with readers around the world: given the right kind of guidance and support, our institutions of education are perfectly capable of instigating the kinds of radical changes they need to make in order to prepare our young people for an uncertain future. The authors can say this with some confidence because the insights, tools, suggestions and recommendations in the pages of Transformative Innovation in Education are rooted firmly in practical experience.

Research & Papers

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