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Rethinking Innovation Strategies for Online Communities and Forums


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In the ever-evolving landscape of online communities and forums, established frameworks and models must adapt to the rapid pace of change. One such model, the Three Horizons model, introduced by McKinsey in 2000, has long been a cornerstone of innovation strategy. It categorizes innovation into three distinct time horizons, offering a structured approach for communities and forums to prioritize their initiatives. However, as we venture further into the 21st century, it's becoming evident that this model possesses a critical flaw that could leave communities and forums lagging behind competitors or, in extreme cases, obsolete.

The Three Horizons Model: A Brief Overview for Online Communities and Forums

The Three Horizons model delineates innovation into three primary horizons, and we can adapt it to the context of online communities and forums:

  1. Horizon 1: This horizon revolves around the concept of continuous innovation. It involves enhancing a community or forum's existing features and core capabilities, focusing on the short term.
  2. Horizon 2: The second horizon extends these capabilities to new users, segments, or engagement targets. It aims to leverage existing strengths to tap into adjacent opportunities.
  3. Horizon 3: Horizon 3 is characterized by creating entirely new capabilities and functionalities to either seize disruptive opportunities or counter potential disruptions within the online community or forum. It represents the realm of truly transformative innovation.

Three Horizons | H3Uni

The Fatal Flaw 

Traditionally, the Three Horizons model has been a valuable tool for guiding innovation strategy within online communities and forums. However, it operates under the assumption that disruptive Horizon 3 innovations necessitate years of meticulous development. In today's dynamic landscape, this assumption falls short. Disruptive Horizon 3 ideas can materialize and be executed with astonishing speed, often matching the pace of Horizon 1 innovations within the community or forum's existing framework.

This acceleration of Horizon 3 disruption is predominantly leveraged by challengers and new entrants, including emerging platforms and even non-corporate entities. The advantages these entities possess in terms of agility and adaptability pose a significant threat to established online communities and forums.

Countering Swift Horizon 3 Disruption in the Context of Online Communities and Forums

To effectively counter the rapid disruption presented by Horizon 3 innovators within online communities and forums, established platforms must employ a range of strategies:

1. Incentivizing External Resources: Encourage external resources, such as community managers, moderators, or innovative individuals, to align with the community or forum's goals and mission. By offering incentives and support, these platforms can harness the capabilities of external innovators.

2. Acquisition and Integration: Acquire external innovators or emerging platforms and integrate them into the existing community or forum structure. This allows established platforms to combine the strengths of their organization with new, disruptive technologies and community-building models.

3. Rapid Replication: Quickly replicate the innovations introduced by external disruptors. By adopting and adapting these innovations, established platforms can leverage their established user base and community model to dominate new segments or engagement targets.

4. Innovating Internally: Foster a culture of innovation within the online community or forum to continuously generate disruptive ideas and functionalities. By innovating internally, established platforms can stay ahead of external disruptors and better serve their community.

Rethinking the Three Horizons Model for Online Communities and Forums

While the Three Horizons model remains a valuable shorthand for prioritizing innovation initiatives within online communities and forums, it must adapt to the realities of the 21st century. The model should recognize that many disruptions can occur rapidly by repurposing existing Horizon 1 technologies into innovative community-building models.

In today's landscape, challengers often hold the advantage, unburdened by legacy systems and processes that encumber established platforms. To thrive in this environment, established online communities and forums must be agile, proactive, and open to external collaboration. By acknowledging the potential for swift disruption and implementing the strategies outlined above, these platforms can navigate the evolving innovation landscape and remain competitive in the face of rapid change.

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