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Transformative innovation is about deep questioning

Daniel Christian Wahl
4 min readMay 19, 2021


“True innovation occurs when things are put together for the first time that had been separate.”

— Arthur Koestler and John Smythies (1969)

The third horizon gives us a long-term guiding vision and invites us to expand the time horizons we are thinking in [more on the 3 Horizons pathways]. In the search for a sustainable and desirable future we would do well to remember the wisdom of many traditional cultures that thought in much longer timeframes than our fast-paced modern culture. Many traditional cultures took important decisions with future generations in mind. Most of our current decision-making on the other hand seems to aim for short-term maximization of limited systems parameters, like for example the increase of GDP from one year to the next, or at the most, from one election cycle to another. The Native American Iroquois Nation famously had the practice of taking any important decision with special consideration for its possible effects on the seventh, yet unborn, generation in mind. This is the kind of cultural and civilizational guidance system that can create regenerative cultures.

We have to relearn what Peter Schwartz (1996) called the Art of the Long View and Three Horizons thinking is a good way to do so. Just as the builders of medieval cathedrals had a vision of the building they were constructing even if they would never see it finished, we need an inspiring vision of the regenerative culture we would like to co-create even if the journey of cultural transformation might take more than one lifetime or generation.

We’d better get used to constant transformative innovation and a rapid creation of new transitional structures that may soon dissolve to give way to the next creative adaptation to changing circumstances and another cycle of transformative innovation. In my own opinion, the 21st century will mark an unprecedented transformation of human culture as we will redesign our presence on Earth in adaptation to the ecological reality of our planetary life-support system. The emerging narrative of interbeing will come to express itself in a kaleidoscopic diversity of thriving regional cultures developing a new intimacy, reciprocity and care for their local ecosystems as contributors to human and planetary health.

Structural, cultural, technological, political, educational and economic transformations will occur not just once or twice but in a continuous sequence, at different scales, and in different regions at different times and in different ways. Both H2+ and H3 transformative innovation has the potential to drive the cultural evolution from our current industrial growth society of resource exploitation and social competition to a life- sustaining society of humanity as nature caring for systemic health and resilience out of enlightened self-interest and rooted in local, regional and global collaboration aimed at optimizing the system for all.

Our species, inquisitive Homo sapiens sapiens, is dancing with the real danger of triggering irreversible run-away effects within the biosphere that will influence life on Earth for many millennia. In the transformative journey towards regenerative human cultures, how we get there — what relationships we form within the human family and with the community of life, our path of continuous learning and transformation along the way — matters more than arriving. In fact, there is no arrival at the end of this journey, only continuous adaptation and transformation. We are participants in life’s continuous exploration of novelty.

Guiding questions are a more useful way to chart such a continuous transformative path than fixed answers. This does not mean we do not have to propose answers and implement solutions; we simply have to be aware that they will only serve temporarily.

What are the basic assumptions and beliefs that inform how we define the problem and offer solutions?

What are the unmet real needs that are obscured by the perceived needs we are focusing on?

How can we more effectively work with the people affected and involve them in finding solutions that work for them?

How can we design flexibility and the capacity to transform and adapt into our proposed solutions?

What can we learn from nature’s patterns and processes in order to create solutions that strengthen rather than weaken local ecosystems and the planetary life support system?

Why are we focused on this particular issue and how does it relate to its wider context (are we asking the right question)?

Are there related problems that we could include in finding a more systemic way of dealing with multiple interconnected issues at once?

How does what we are proposing to do affect ourselves, our community and the world?

What implication might our ‘solution’ have for future generations?

How do we stay flexible and keep learning from systemic feedback and unexpected side-effects?

[This sub-chapter is an excerpt from Designing Regenerative Cultures, published by Triarchy Press in 2016 in English — see reviews here. The book is also available in Brazilian, Portuguese, Spanish editions, and soon in Italian and Slovak.]

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Daniel Christian Wahl — Catalyzing transformative innovation in the face of converging crises, advising on regenerative whole systems design, regenerative leadership, and education for regenerative development and bioregional regeneration.

Author of the internationally acclaimed book Designing Regenerative Cultures

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Daniel Christian Wahl

Catalysing transformative innovation, cultural co-creation, whole systems design, and bioregional regeneration. Author of Designing Regenerative Cultures