We live in a world of abundance and potential. And yet we are experiencing multiple, deeply entangled, environmental, social and economic crises that are undermining our individual and collective wellbeing – including the integrity of the rest of the living world. The Three Horizons of Change Model can help us navigate through this dilemma.
The dilemma we face is caused by our culture, institutions and economic structures forming a complex, interlocking system that shapes our beliefs and constrains our behaviours. Social norms, physical infrastructure, pricing and subsidies, all drive us to act as if “nature” is something separate, of little consequence. They also reinforce the false assumptions that everyone is selfish and heartless.
Since the dawn of humanity, new social and economic systems have evolved and displaced the old. Hunter gatherer societies were replaced by agriculture and the rise of the civilisations that concentrated power and resources. Then came colonialism and the industrial revolution based on the extraction of wealth from afar and harnessing fossil fuels to power the production of evermore material goods while increasingly devastating the living world.
We can’t go on like this. The current system is failing to deliver its own promises of prosperity for all, even as it devastates nature and our planet. We need to imagine and bring into existence a new system where people and the rest of the living world can flourish together. A society and an economy where cultural norms, institutions and infrastructure, all reflect the reality that we are part of nature, that we are naturally kind and caring, and that we live in a world of abundance and potential.
Our current, failing, socio-economic system is inextricably intertwined. Public policy fuels “essential” economic growth, advertising and cultural role models drive the hyper-consumption of wasteful, short-life products transported around the world. Higher education, especially of policy makers and business leaders, rests on assumptions that are no longer tenable. Housing is often far from services and jobs with little or no public transport, making one or more cars essential. And so it goes on…
Despite its failings, the current system is so locked together, so mutually reinforcing, that it resists fundamental change. It will not and cannot evolve through incremental change into the new system we and the world needs. There are just two options: either the current, failed system collapses causing extraordinary human suffering and environmental devastation, or we find ways to transition, more or less smoothly, to the new system we need.
It might seem that there’s a third option: reforming and extending the current system. It’s appealing. Especially to those who benefit from business as usual, the most powerful of whom are likely to go to great lengths to persuade us to support them. But given the extent to which the current system is divorced from reality – not least its belief in infinite growth on a finite planet – this is merely postponing inevitable collapse. Business as usual with electric cars and smart tech is simply business as usual.
But we are a species that abounds with visionaries, innovators, communicators and do-ers. Collectively we know enough about the living world and human behaviour to move rapidly in the right direction, to work on the transition. This model allows us to step back, see the wood for trees, and perhaps most importantly to ask ourselves the question: is what I’m doing, is this technology, is this strategy, merely extending the failed system? Or is it truly part of a transition to a system to reflects the reality that we are part of the living world, a system that shares the abundance fairly, a system that celebrates and reinforces the best in human nature?
LEARN MORE ABOUT THE THREE HORIZONS OF CHANGE:
The Three Horizons model was developed by Bill Sharpe and colleagues at the International Futures Forum and is described in his book Three Horizons: The Patterning of Hope. The model can be used in various ways.
As well as using the model conceptually, it can also be used as a tool to analyse a specific system and to explore practical approaches to bringing about change. For example, a country’s education system or health system, or a regional food system or a specific supply chain.
Using the model in a workshop to tackle systems like this is a great way for stakeholders from each horizon to develop a shared understanding of the issues and to explore how they could work together more effectively towards shared goals.