Horizon 3: Building the Future

This is the third of three posts about the Three Horizon framework of innovation.  If this third horizon sounds tough, or something we should not worry about, or a problem for those in a distant future, think about the folks that just landed a rover on Mars.  We revel in their success!  We get goose bumps because they think big, work hard, and build for an uncertain future, just as their predecessors did with Mercury, Apollo, and the Shuttle.  Does the future of education deserve less?

Paul Hobcraft writes:

 “Horizon Three consists of nascent business ideas and opportunities that could be future growth engines. Horizon Three innovations are the ones that will change the nature of your industry. It is where there are real possibilities of completely new ways of doing things…where the mindset has to be more fluid and adaptable…you envision, explore and embody. Often there may be no right or wrong to these different views and often they simply cannot be grounded in ‘hard’ evidence but clear scenarios that embrace these different perspectives needs broad discussion and eventually emerging consensus of where to explore and not.”

This is the realm of the future of education. Where the second horizon of innovation addresses currently disruptive ideas that we need to deal with in the mid-term, the third horizon is where we contemplate a future that may look vastly different than the current setting.  This is the realm of “what if” scenarios, where, over a longer time period, we re-imagine and re-design the alignment of vision and resources in ways that are significantly different than today. This horizon is where we challenge the fundamental relationship amongst the three legs of the educational process: students, teachers, and knowledge.

How do we grasp this task?  Whose job is it to re-imagine on a time frame that may be longer than our normal five-year planning cycles? Where do we start to look?  Our normal reaction is to stick this horizon away on a burner that never gets turned on; these issues and opportunities are just too remote to the burdens of daily life.  Unfortunately that reaction flies in the face of reality. Horizon Three exists whether we like it or not. The John Deweys of a hundred years ago worked in the realm of Horizon Three. Should we rest on their shoulders forever, or should we create the foundations of great education for the future?

Organizations that engage these opportunities will be the educational leaders, the great schools of tomorrow. As I wrote a few weeks ago, it takes just a few minutes to generate fascinating lists of “what if” questions that lead to endless opportunities for fundamental change in how and what we learn. Many of these will be dead ends; a few, with hard work, will vault our students into a new learning process prepares them for their futures, not our past.  The good news is that we are at the very inception point of this process and there are a growing cadre of pragmatic educators like Bo Adams, Peter Gow, Robert Dillon, Lyn Hilt, Nancy Elting, Laura Deisley, Jill Gough, Megan Howard, Mike Davis, Lee Burns, Jonathan Martin, Jamie Baker, Chris Lehman, Eric Jule, Bill Christ, John Hunter, and so many others who are willing to not only talk about the future, but also take risks to build it.  The bad news is that time is not on our side. The rate of change in the world is vastly greater than historical rates of change in schools, so Horizon Three is compressed into our strategic vision whether we like it or not. We have to get familiar with innovation processes and integrate them into our school structures, or we will lose the entire set of Horizon Three opportunities.  Innovation best practices suggest that a future “great” without these future opportunities is very difficult indeed.

0 thoughts on “Horizon 3: Building the Future

  1. boadams1

    Thanks, Grant. To be among these names is a great honor. Together, all of us working as part of the same orchestra, I think we can design and implement for the three horizons of innovation in/for/by and of school.

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  2. Jamie Feild Baker

    I feel honored to be in such great company! Thanks for including me, Grant. I appreciate your focus on the courage and hard work that it takes. Those that fail to begin are planning their own obsolescence — an interesting way to fulfill their responsibility to students, parents, and the mission-driven institutions they serve.

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