Our February 2021 Regenerative Leadership Community conversation focused on a framework for change commonly known as the Three Horizons Framework, a concept very similar to the adaptive cycle. On one end you have Horizon One, which contains things that are dying or going away. On the other end, you have Horizon Three, which contains things that are emerging. In between, you have Horizon Two, also known as the “messy middle.”

The Three Horizons of Change

  • Horizon One asks, “What are the values of the system that are changing? What are the things that are leaving? What are some values we’re releasing?”
  • Horizon Two, the messy middle, is where we figure out how to negotiate and problem solve through the shift between the other two horizons and resolve tensions.
  • Horizon Three asks, “What are the values that are emerging and driving us toward something new?”

Whether it is the pandemic, politics, ideologies, or social injustice, there are plenty of examples of thinking and methods that no longer serve us that are currently in Horizon One, and opportunities for the rise of new things in Horizon Three.

2021 and the Metal Ox

Last year many forward-thinking leaders embraced “pivot and adapt,” an approach that centers on being flexible in response to challenges. This year, however, many think that energy must change. This is no longer a time of pivoting. In the Chinese lunar calendar this is the year of the Metal Ox. Oxen don’t pivot. They have steady, strategic forward motion. Horizon Two requires the work of an ox. We keep our eyes on Horizon Three and what we’re creating and co-creating, but it takes the steady work of an ox to make that a reality. Using this energy, we can navigate unknowns much more easily.

We are a little over a month into the year of the Metal Ox, who is eager to break out and begin work. As Norma Ryuko Kaweloku Wong Roshi mentions in her article 2021 is the Year of the Metal Ox, With a steady rhythm and determined orientation to Horizon Three, the ox is prepared to pull heavy loads of work and responsibility. All around us, we find evidence of unfinished business, human suffering to alleviate and brokenness to repair. The energy of the ox means more work and less thrashing about – no more dramatic shifts and quick pivots. This is a year of wide turns and gradually taking ground.”

As one of our participants put it, …” there’s stability with the movement of the Ox. This allows us to make informed decisions versus the frantic, reactionary ones we made in 2020.”

The Three Horizon Framework can be applied to anything where a shift can or should occur. One example may be letting go of the old processes that fueled social aid and moving toward new, more effective processes that make relief a reality. It gets very messy in the middle when politics, values, money, and methods are all in flux. Another example can be more personal. Consider the philosophies you once believed in that no longer serve you. Prepare to let go, even if you’re personally attached, to make space for new ways of thinking that emerge after the messy middle of self-reflection.

Think of Horizon One as a prevailing paradigm that is now dying. The way paradigms shift and give way to new paradigms is the old one gets loud and tries to drown out the emergent paradigm. That loudness lets you know when you are starting to move toward the messy middle. You resist something that could change how you view the world. But if you think about a bicycle, the downstroke on the pedal fuels the upstroke. The resistance actually fuels the emergent. The question becomes how do we navigate the process of letting go of old paradigms to make room for new? It can be an emotional process that we have to work through.

As another participant explained,

“…communication is key when navigating a paradigm shift.

“Through communication we create a narrative that can bridge the gap between Horizon One and Horizon Three, getting us through the messy middle. When we create stories that have a moral arc and an aspirational focus, those stories let us listen to one another and come together to do the hard ox work through Horizon Two.”

The exercise of considering the Three Horizon Framework can be done on any level. Simply ask  “What do I want to let go of and what is emerging? What work has to be done in the messy middle?” As you practice, learn to tell the story of this journey through the horizons. The more you tell the story, the more you find what resonates and the story strengthens. If you tell this story to others their perspective can be woven into a narrative that brings resolution as you shift from one thing to another.

Join us for our next session on Tuesday, March 16th at 1 pm CST via ZOOM. The Regenerative Leadership Community looks forward to coming together with you and sharing our collective wisdom and experience as we move forward in 2021.