A Resetting of our Life-Dysfunctional Cultural Value Systems to the Life-Valued Ground via The Three Horizons Framework

As a biological and cultural species, we are ultimately grounded to the life-supporting systems of our planet and that of our societies, respectively.

We are ultimately anchored to these life-supporting systems and are able to survive and thrive by the necessary and sufficient provisioning of the universal human life necessities as explained in Professor John’s McMurtry’s The Primary Axiom of Value / Universal Human Economy. These include the physical life goods such as “1) breathable air, sense-open space, and daily light (atmospheric means of life), 2) clean water, nourishing foods and self-waste disposal (bodily means of life), 3) shelter space from the elements with ample provision to retire, sleep and function (home means of life) and 4) environmental surroundings whose elements and contours contribute to the whole (environmental means of life)“, and the social life-services such as “5) intimate love, social inclusion, safety and healthcare when ill or infirm (caring means of life), 6) activities of language-logos/art-play to choose and learn from (educational/recreational means of life), 7) meaningful work or service to perform (vocational means of life) and finally 8) self-governing choice in each’s enjoyment consistent with each’s provision (social justice).

And finally, we are ultimately steered by the laws of nature and the informal cultural norms and the formal policies and rules of engagement within society in the accessing and provisioning of these universal human life necessities, which are once again ultimately grounded in the integral regeneration and vitality of the life supporting systems of the planet and society through generational time. This has led Professor John McMurtry to introduce the concept of civil commons which is defined in Individuals Within Society: Human Vocation, Civil Commons and Social Justice as any and all social constructs which enable universal access to human life goods without which people’s capacities are always reduced.” He explains that “a society is life-value efficient only so far as its rule system is structured to provide for access of its members to life goods through generational time. This structure of provision for the life capacities of its members to be fully alive rather than deprived is in turn, what life-value theory designates as the civil commons…it is the social basis of valid human rights and social justice as well as economic reproduction at the same time…(and) can be recognised as the unseen differentia of the species which first emerges in language itself and distinguishes all subsequent supra-genetic evolution.”

The ultimate value of this integral grounding, anchoring and steering is to develop in life-enabling ways our individual and collective life capacities during our individual and generational life courses. This integrity is embodied in our cultural value system which for all intents and purposes should enable and be manifested by a more coherently inclusive range of the ultimate fields of value which comprise “1) thought = internal image and concept, 2) felt side of being = senses, desires, emotions, moods, and 3) action = animate movement across species and organizations.”

Once we pause to ponder and reflect on the state of affairs of the world in our midst, we at once recognize that although for most of generational time, our cultural value systems have been for the most part life-enabling for our species and our other evolutionary family, it has become corrupted in the last 5000 to 10,000 years to serve the controlling interests of the ruling class and now, especially within the last few decades, has become cancerously life-disabling for the majority of us and is becoming even worse for the next generations of ALL of life on this planet.

As Professor John McMurtry laments in Winning the War of the World: 

The air, soil and water cumulatively degrade and disappear; the climates and oceans destabilize without connection; species become extinct at a spasm rate across continents; pollution cycles and volumes rise endangering life systems on all planes in synergistic despoliation; the world’s forests, meadows and fisheries are cumulatively destroyed by the profit drivers of globalization; food pollinators, songbirds, coral reefs and large animals crash  in unconnected response; public sectors and services are defunded and privatized as tax evasion by the rich multiplies; the global food system produces more and more disabling junk and wastes; non-contagious diseases multiply to the world’s biggest killer; the global financial system issues money out of control while collapsing in productive investment; the vocational future of the next generations is erased across the world; official lies and corruption are normalized as public relations. All the trends are one-way, degenerate, and undeniable.”

Who and what are responsible for this cancerous cultural value disorder that is threatening to destroy our life-developing social life host and ultimately that of the life-regenerating planetary life host? This is a very loaded question that is being vigorously suppressed from coming to the collective consciousness by the controlling ruling class.  They have captured and are threatening to collapse via our formal institutions of governance and regulation our knowledge and skills civil commons base as it pertains to our coherent inclusive provisioning of the physical life-goods and the social life-services across all domains of place and time.

The Three Horizons framework graphically illustrate how this “War of the World” based on competing value systems can be envisioned in playing out in the short, medium and long term domains.

Screenshot 2018-06-03 03.35.32Screenshot 2018-06-03 03.35.42Screenshot 2018-06-03 03.35.54Screenshot 2018-06-03 03.36.08

Screenshot 2018-06-03 03.37.07
The five slides above were clipped from: https://www.slideshare.net/grahamiff/sharpe-and-hodgson-3h-presentation
Screenshot 2018-06-03 03.41.21
Clipped from: https://www.slideshare.net/grahamiff/iff-three-horizons-slides

As explained by Daniel Christian Wahl in The Three Horizons of innovation and culture change:

The ‘Three Horizons’ framework is a foresight tool that can help us to structure our thinking about the future in ways that spark innovation. It describes three patterns or ways of doing things and how their relative prevalence and interactions evolve over time. The change from the established pattern of the first horizon to the emergence of fundamentally new patters in the third occurs via the transition activity of the second horizon.


“The framework helps us to become more aware of how our individual and collective intentions and behaviours actively shape the future today. By mapping three ways of relating to the future from the perspectives of the three horizons we can bring the value of each of them to the conversation in a generative way that fosters understanding and future consciousness as the basis for collaborative action and transformative innovation.

I believe the three horizons offer an important framework for thinking about transformative innovation that can be used to facilitate the transition towards regenerative cultures. It can help us to structure our collective exploration as we start living the questions together as conscious participants in this transition. In this context, the first horizon (red) represents the currently prevalent systems that are beginning to show symptoms of decline and shortening cycles of crisis and temporary, but never fundamental, recovery.

In other words, Horizon 1 is ‘business as usual’, or ‘the world in crisis’ (H1). It is characterized by ‘sustaining innovation’ that keeps ‘business as usual’ going. Horizon 3 (green) is how we envision a ‘viable world’ (H3). We may not be able to define this future in every detail — as the future is always uncertain — yet we can intuit what fundamental transformations lie ahead, and we can pay attention to social, ecological, economic, cultural and technological experiments around us that may be pockets of this future in the present. Horizon 2 (blue) represents ‘world in transition’ (H2) — the entrepreneurial and culturally creative space of already technologically, economically and culturally feasible innovations that can disrupt and transform H1 to varying degrees and can have either regenerative, neutral or degenerative socio-ecological effects.

At the point where these H2 innovations become more effective than the existing practices, they begin to replace aspects of ‘business as usual’. Yet some forms of ‘disruptive innovation’ ultimately get absorbed by H1 without leading to fundamental and transformative change, while other forms of ‘disruptive innovation’ can be thought of as a possible bridge from H1 to H3.

Within the context of the transition towards regenerative cultures we introduce a value bias into our use of the Three Horizons methodology: solutions that create conditions conducive to life and establish regenerative patterns are valued more highly than those that don’t.

Horizon 1 is based on practices that have worked for a long time and have a proven track record based on past experience. H1 thinking — dominated by the narrative of separation — has shaped most of the practices that seem vital to our continued existence. Our education systems, our systems of production and consumption, our health system, communication infrastructure, transport and housing infrastructures, all of these systems and the vital services they provide will have to be transformed during the transition towards regenerative cultures.

From the perspective of the present moment, H3 describes regenerative cultures capable of constant learning and transformation in adaptation to and anticipation of change. Yet, as we approach H3, it recedes, or better, it transforms in response to wider systemic change. By the time we reach the cultural maturity that we today describe in terms of the third horizon, this H3 will have turned into the new H1 and we will face new and unpredictable challenges that will require us to take a new H3 perspective. The pilgrimage towards a sustainable and regenerative future has an endless string of false summits. As we reach the top of the green summit (H3) of our horizons map, we stand on the red ground of our new H1. Looking ahead with future consciousness we see the new second and third horizons stretched out in front of us.

Since the process of cultural evolution and transformation is continuous, there is no arriving at and maintaining an H3 scenario forever. Moving towards the third horizon always entails acknowledging our ‘not knowing’ and therefore staying with an apprentice mindset — ready to learn from experience; humble enough to regard no solution as final; and open to acknowledging the valuable perspectives of all three horizons.

While aspects of today’s H1 are obsolete and among the root-causes of unsustainable practices, other aspects of H1 are also helping to provide vital services without which we would face almost immediate collapse. The transformation has to occur while these vital services continue to be provided. It is not possible for humanity to switch off the lights, leave the room, and start afresh in a different room that holds more promise. We only have one home planet. We have to find ways to transition from a status quo that is now deeply unsustainable to a new one. Sustainability and regenerative cultures are not end-points to be reached but continuous processes of collective learning. As we move towards the third horizon we are likely to be surprised by the emergence of new challenges. To respond wisely to these challenges the perspectives offered by all three horizons should inform our actions.

In order to avoid the common mistake of ‘throwing out the baby with the bathwater’, it is important to see all that is valuable about H1 and understand the importance of the contributions it makes to co-creating regenerative cultures. Bill Sharpe compares the H1 perspective to the role of the manager responsible for keeping the lights on and the business operational without massive disruption to its basic functioning. The H2 perspective is that of the entrepreneur who sees the potential advantage of doing things differently, challenging the status quo in operational ways but often without questioning the cultural narrative that maintains the H1 culture. The perspective of the H3 visionary calls for profound transformation towards a better (more just, fair, equitable, thriving and sustainable) world.

In the transition context, H3 thinking is informed by the new cultural narrative of interbeing and the scientific evidence for our interdependence with the rest of life. As such, it is defining a new way of being and relating based on a fundamental shift in worldview acknowledging the valuable contributions of H1 and H2 perspectives and putting them into the context of wider eco-social transformation.

In charting a path to regenerative cultures that aims to avoid massive disruption and suffering, we need to value the bridge that certain types of H2 innovation offer. Most H1 systems might be in need of profound transformation, but still have to be valued as a basis from which innovation and transformation become possible while we avoid the often regressive rather than evolutionary effects of revolution and systemic collapse.

The H3 perspective itself is populated by many different visions of the future. In the context of this book I concentrate on those that value viability and regeneration, yet it is important to stay open for the lessons we can learn from all three horizons and the diversity of perspectives on the future they represent. Maintaining an open mind and learning from multiple perspectives can help us to develop ‘future consciousness’ as we chart our path into a future that will always be characterized by the emergence of novel conditions — some predetermined and inevitable, others unpredictable.

Diverse H3 visions and experiments are needed to take our collective conversation about the future to a level that is inclusive and participatory. We need to question our own cultural conditioning and the myopia caused by H1 education and cultural discourse. H1 managers can often be locked into a specific way of doing things and a specific mindset (the narrative of separation) — a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy. H3 visionaries remind us to see future potential and possibilities beyond the rigid H1 mindset that resists change, in particular those kinds of change that invite cultural transformation.

The bridge between H1 and H3 is constructed by paying discerning attention to the space of innovation and the period of transition that is opened up by the second horizon. The H2 perspective sees opportunities in the shortcomings of H1 and aims to ground the visionary possibilities of the third horizon with some practical next steps. Many of them are likely to be ‘stepping stones’ or transitional innovations. Since H2 innovation takes place in an economic climate and within power structures dominated by H1, many of the proposed H2 innovations are ultimately captured to serve H1 goals. As the second horizon is about experimentation and entrepreneurship, many of its initiatives fail, offering opportunities for learning. Only a small percentage of innovations succeed in building an effective bridge between H1 and H3, enabling implementation of H3’s high visions in tangible, convincing and ‘positively infectious’ ways.

Three Horizons thinking allows us to acknowledge what is valuable in each of the three horizons’ distinct perspectives and ways of relating to the future. It helps us to see the opportunities and future potential of the present moment. It can help us to ask deeper questions as we engage in conversations informed by ‘future consciousness’ that turn rigid mindsets into valuable perspectives.

[This is an excerpt of a subchapter from Designing Regenerative Cultures, published by Triarchy Press, 2016.]”

The cultural innovations that have been sought over the the life-time of our species to steward and guide our formal rules of engagements, inclusive of our scriptures, theories, ideologies, constitutions and treaties, have all been incremental with minor and major life-progressions and life-regressions, and at this latest stage of our human evolution, have been for the most part life-disruptive as they were ALL not fully coherently life-grounded. We in effect have been unmoored and cast away in our cultural follies and hubris by our lack of being fully coherently life-grounded, life-anchored and life-steered.

In order for us to navigate our way through a “World in Turbulent Transition (H2)” from a “World in Crisis (H1)” to a Viable World (H3)” we would have to use the ultimate cultural transformative innovation available and fortunately for us all, this has already been discovered by Professor John McMurtry and has been gifted to us by his Primary Axiom of Value / Universal Human Economy which is the outcome of his distillation and synthesis of many years of the widest study and the deepest reflection ever attempted on the corpus of human life-musings since our species emerged on the evolutionary stage.

Based on the Primary Axiom of Value and its converse, which are summarized below, we should now be able to navigate our ultimate fields of value of thoughts, felt sides of being and actions through these uncertain and ambiguous times with full confidence as we regeneratively redesign our cultures which would now be more fully life-coherent and more fit for life-purpose, not only for us human beings, but for ALL life on this planet, for this generation and for more generations to come!

“I endorse, outline and apply John McMurtry’s life-value onto-axiology, which is in all probability the most articulate theory of value developed by any philosopher in the 21st century. “

— Martin Gren, ‎Edward H. Huijbens – 2015 – ‎Business & Economics

The Primary Axiom of Value:

X is value if and only if, and to the extent that, x consists in or enables a more coherently inclusive range of thought/feeling/action than without it.

Conversely: x is disvalue if and only if, and to the extent that, x reduces/disables/destroys any range of thought/experience/action.

Definitions of the three ultimate fields of value:

  • thought = internal image and concept (T)
  • felt side of being = senses, desires, emotions, moods (F);
  • action = animate movement across species and organizations (A)

governed by:

  • the good will = T/F/A as one to realise the Primary Axiom
  • the true = progressive consistency with the P-Axiom, or the life coherence principle

Symbolically expressed:

+V = > LR + and −V = < LR where L = Range of TFA and / = and/or.

The unlimited validity of the P-Axiom across time, place and domains is shown by

(1) self-evidence insofar as its denial is nonsensical;

(2) universality across all domains and issues of value judgment insofar as there is no domain of value to which it does not apply;

(3) presupposition in value judgments and conflicts across domains;

(4) objectivity insofar as its value is independent of anyone’s recognition;

(5) impartiality insofar as it cuts against or privileges no common life interest;

(6) completeness insofar as it includes every life form, domain, or change to ill or better in distinct or holistic comprehension;

(7) sovereignty in that it overrides any other value in cases of conflict;

(8) measurable in degrees of value insofar as greater/lesser ranges of thought, felt being and action can each/all be decided from any given reference body of value;

(9) contingent pattern of long-term evolutionary and historical development.

The Primary Axiom is realised in the world by the following complete set of universal human life necessities and their axiomatic criteria/measures of life goods, capital and efficiency which govern the Universal Human Economy (“the missing alternative paradigm”). In normative terms, these principles govern as Life-Ground Ethics (including Moral Theory and Aesthetics on collective as well as individual levels). In legal and policy terms, they provide the framework of assessing the validity and legitimacy of any law. In social contract terms, they constitute the L-V O-A Covenant of Life on Earth to prevail over all conditions of ruling system or habit disabling life coherent realisation of the good will in social, group or individual action.” – from Primary Axiom of Value / Universal Human Economy




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