There’s a balance to be struck by all of us between working on the thing that’s in front of us, and building the foundations for what we need to work on next. When you’re ‘running to keep up’ that foundational work can feel like a luxury. But oh my goodness there’s nothing like a pandemic to teach us that preparedness for what’s not right in front of us is an essential not a nice to do.
I’m writing about it here because there’s something about how and why we do it, that is important if we want to keep it in balance. We all need slack and serendipity but the capacity to look outwards, to innovate and change to a desired future, requires focus and intent. It’s the foundational work that takes time and investment. There are ways to do it well.
Bill Sharpe’s ‘Three Horizons’ model is a way of framing change through three phases of time (the horizons). But instead of this being the traditional, linear approach of now, mid-term and long-term, he describes it the model as drawing attention to “the three horizons as existing always in the present moment, and that we have evidence about the future in how people (including ourselves) are behaving now.” (2013)
So this is, in part, why we can look for seeds of the future in the present. We’re not disconnected from the future, we can see it amongst us.
But being able to notice those seeds of the future in us all is the skill and practice. How we frame what we notice and what we’re looking for.
So how can we do this? Who can help?
I like the image of birds eating food on the ground. You have to eat the food, and you also need to use your peripheral vision to check no-one’s about to come for you and the food. That peripheral vision is just as important. We can’t argue with that.
We need our wing mirrors. We need to widen our view.
We also need people who can help us notice what we can’t. Our ‘blind spots’ for want of a better phrase.
How does this all look from a different vantage point?
Wing mirrors enable us to notice what is happening around us, and see other opportunities.
Using our wing mirrors can be about looking intentionally for information in sources that are one or steps away from our profession or sector.
Or it can be about the people we meet and listen to. Being intentional with your network. Building connections that are beyond the limits of your regular habitat. Talking to people who you don’t have a natural affinity with, until you get beyond the surface.
Any new habit takes a while to start to see the benefits. To get beyond that investment in something new.
But keeping this all in balance is important for our health and productivity at work. And the tension we can feel in doing both is also mirrored by bigger trends at work. The rift between work that is narrowly focussed on tasks; and work that is good for us, that enables us to connect and be healthy and well, and contribute to long-term productivity.
These trends are going to play out.
We can be intentional with how we use our time, and learn from how other people do innovation and change well.