Examples of innovations that make us question the 3 horizons model

The 3 horizons model highlights and categorizes time-based future growth opportunities, helping you to organize grand innovation plans into shorter steps.
Horizon model poster

Think ‘time’ versus ‘value’. What are the monthly or yearly milestones which see your business being profitable by making smaller improvements, whilst moving towards that big hairy audacious goal promising entirely new competencies?

  • Horizon 1 maintains and strengthens core business in 1-3 years
  • Horizon 2 explores and expands the core business in 2-5 years
  • Horizon 3 creates entirely new capabilities in 5-12 years

Today, the time horizons are still useful, but universally scrambled in terms of expected output vs. reality. Organizations and industries move in myriad directions, at an unforeseen pace. 

So what about those that are breaking the time horizons mold? After all, 2020 sees radical and architectural innovations that would have once taken years making it to market in months. 

We also see the opposite; tweaks to existing products or processes that are taking years to be released. Or seemingly marketable inventions in slower-moving sectors still held back by regulation. 

The horizons model is an enduring way to help understand, measure and talk about different kinds of growth. It’s wise to remember, however, that the 3 horizons are no longer bound by universal timeframes. They need to be redefined for organizations respectively based on industry and context.

How has this played out recently? Here are 3 examples:

Motion sensors

An architectural innovation launched in Horizon 2

Horizon 2 innovations take 2-5 years to generate results and are traditionally characterized by expanding an existing business proposition or product. Innovations on this horizon could be an existing idea copied into a new market; an idea which has been proven in principle but takes some time to validate and adapt laterally. 

Google’s Soli sensor is an entirely new technology that was validated and launched around the 5-year mark, rather than in 5-12 years as the horizon model would suggest. 

The sensor detects the minutiae of human motion at a new level of precision and in any light condition, enabling users to interact with the virtual world without touch, only hand gestures.

The Soli sensor has been used in the real world with the Google Pixel 4 smartphone. Each phone will contain a Soli radar chip to offer faster face unlock, whilst using hand motions to skip tracks, silence alarms, and make phone calls. 

But the Soli sensor has a much broader application thanks to its sheer speed and responsiveness. This innovation has the potential to change how humans interact with technology. Think twisting finger motions to change speaker volume, holding up your hand to stop a song from playing, or tapping your thumb and index finger together to press a button. 

And next in the pipeline, the Soli sensor could perform tasks such as compass orientation, counting and monitoring home items, and even remote surgery.

Augmented reality

An update to an existing product delivered in Horizon 3

In 2015, Microsoft launched Hololens to consumers. This new augmented reality headset was set to ignite the imaginations of gamers and developers, promising to enrich the gaming experience with lifelike holographic content superimposed onto real-world objects. 

But it sank as a consumer device. 

Critics speculated on whether it was the $3,000 price tag, lack of a warranty or limited application support. But this consumer failure had corporate potential. It turned out that the product was mostly right, but the business model was wrong.

So with adjustments to pricing and market strategy ordinarily characteristic of Horizon 1, Microsoft Hololens made the switch to B2B and finally found success in promoting industrial products within the marine industry – a higher-risk, slower-moving sector.

Here, Augmented Reality becomes a much-needed tool for mitigating risk and managing the unexpected. Cruise ships, ice breakers, and cargo ships spend most of their time at sea, far away from ports – so a technical error can cause major damage. In this situation, Hololens can help service requests to be resolved remotely, identifying faults through mixed reality and proposing which devices need to be repaired or replaced in the near future. 

Remote surgery

A sensory technology breakthrough emerging through medical regulation

As mentioned earlier, technology similar to the Soli sensor could also be used to operate on people remotely, owing to its near-real-time responsiveness. This has the potential to offer significant improvements to the success-rates of surgery – particularly complex procedures. Surgeons can simulate, rather than mentally rehearse, their first incision and next steps, making sure that their actions deliver the desired effect before they head into the theater. 

In 2019, Augmented Reality company Magic Leap partnered with Brain Lab, which produces training software for surgeons. They made the jump from gaming to healthcare by rendering brain scans onto 3D objects, which surgeons can interact with through 3D goggles. 

It may only have made moves into medicine recently, but this type of technology has been used for over a decade to harm as well as help humans.

Hyperspectral imaging sensors have been previously used on satellites and manned military aircrafts. Now, they are migrating to military drones, helping to detect the composition of specific objects based on their spectral ‘fingerprint’. This serves the likes of homeland security in mapping any movements or objects on the ground not visible to the human eye.  

It’s a prime example of how a longer horizon can apply to heavily regulated industries even when it comes to repurposing existing technologies. 

What can you learn from these examples?


We’d advise you to use the horizon model as a guiding framework to charter your innovation initiatives against tangible timelines, manage expectations, and get everyone on the same page. But remember, the rules are there to be rewritten.

For help instilling an innovation culture within your organization or demonstrating the value of your innovation activities (and eliminating programs that will achieve nothing), you can always check out our innovation strategy programs

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