Exclusive Interview of Neil Mann of Future Horizon. Edited by Powered Magazine
In an era defined by rapid technological advancements and profound societal transformations, there are visionary individuals who dedicate their lives to shaping the future. Neil Mann, a distinguished futurist, advisor, writer, consultant, and founder of Future Horizon, stands at the forefront of this paradigm shift. With Future Horizon, Neil has established a platform that fosters dialogue, collaboration, and knowledge exchange among forward-thinking individuals and organisations. Through this visionary venture, he has created a vehicle that actively shapes the trajectory of the future. Join us as we explore the remarkable journey of Neil Mann, uncovering the depth of his expertise, the impact of his insights, and the transformative power of his forward-thinking mindset.
Tell us about yourself and your business.
“If you’ve ever wondered what the cross between a Swiss Army Knife and a Chameleon looks like, I’m it,” is how I introduce myself.
For the last 20+ years, I’ve worked as a strategy expert for major advisory firms, as an internal consultant, and as an independent specialist. I’ve worked in different roles in diverse industries in various parts of the world, and the constant theme that runs throughout is that I’m all about delivering tangible business outcomes via digital innovation.
I founded Future Horizon in 2022 in response to seeing a huge need for business-focused, independent strategic advisory. I refer to this need as future-forward digital change.
What were your biggest challenges when starting your business?
Many people misunderstand what a futurist is, so really refining the brand message and positioning took time to ensure the value is straightforward to consume for non-technology people. In a nutshell, we translate, simplify, and de-mystify the latest cutting-edge digital trends.
A futurist does not and cannot predict the lottery numbers for next week; it is all about strategic anticipation: rapidly synthesising detailed technical information, then forming and communicating a compelling big-picture forecast perspective.
How have you handled success and failure over the course of your career?
There are three fundamentals that shape how I approach tasks and respond to events.
As a Stoic, I only spend calories on what I can influence and control; everything else simply “is”, regardless of what you may think of it. This pragmatism has helped me throughout my life, but especially during challenging periods in my career.
To move forward and grow, I believe in first learning from the past; it is prudent to look backwards before one looks forwards (something clients often find surprising coming from a futurist).
I’ve also learned that my instinct and “gut feel” are two of my most valuable assets, and hard-won experience has demonstrated I ignore them at my peril.
What strategies do you use to stay competitive in a changing market?
Market flux is the precise reason why Future Horizon exists: to bridge the gap between where you are today and what the future might bring tomorrow. We help you stay ahead of what's next, providing reconnaissance into the edge of technology—we scout the digital frontier, as it’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.
My main route to market is via my strong professional network—through connections, introductions, recommendations, and referrals. Though I work globally, Asia has been my home for more than 12 years now, and the importance of cultivating strong long-term relationships and partnerships has had a profound impact on my approach.
I work backwards from my target customers; when it comes to innovation and “hot topic” buzzwords, they want analysis, clarity, perspective, insight, and advice that is specific to them, their business, industry, and overall context. For example, what is this technology, how does it work, what are the implications, give me some examples, what are my options, what should I (my company) do, and when?
Also important is my active participation in local associations, regional societies, and international industry communities. Finally, learning from the startups that I advise, mentor, and invest in – they are often the first to really try something new.
What motivations drive you to keep pushing forward in the face of adversity?
One of the reasons for creating Future Horizon was that in other organisations I always felt a degree of constraint, especially when it came to questioning the embedded status quo. Politics and hierarchy would invariably nerf any direct challenge but, being the founder the buck stops entirely with me; be that success or failure. I wholeheartedly embrace that.
How have technological advances affected the way you conduct business or operate your venture?
The future is not something that just happens to us; the future is something we do.
Every day I research, explore, and evaluate bleeding-edge technical studies and innovative projects, developing an ever-evolving perspective on new market frontiers. It’s an incredibly exciting time, and I am optimistic about how we can positively shape our future.
I was regularly working from home, perhaps one day a week, with international clients back in 2008 when I was at Gartner, so the ability to work remotely from anywhere is nothing new for me. Future Horizon is a digital-native business, as one might expect, and that allows us to engage with the widest gamut of firms, organisations, and individuals from around the world using the latest collaborative tools.
That said, where practicalities, time, and budget allow, there is, as yet, no real substitute for meeting and working with clients face-to-face (particularly at the start and end of engagements) to create shared understanding, build relationships, and drive momentum.
What trends do you see emerging in your industry that are likely to shape its future growth and development?
Technology innovation and digital disruptions will continue to increasingly permeate every aspect of our day-to-day lives and, in some ways, transform them like never before. For example, the rapid uptake by the masses of conversational interfaces powered by GPT models has been down to seamless accessibility; it is the “iPhone moment” for artificial intelligence (AI), and we’re only getting started in understanding both the applications and implications of these tools.
We are exceptionally bullish on how future enhancements will boost and enrich how we live, morphing work, home, culture, and society.
Businesses will either change or be changed, and so when conventional approaches are not enough, clients must continue to seek out trusted, deep, independent expertise to deliver practical solutions to their unique problems.
One area where we are seeing considerable demand is strategies for how companies can more proactively anticipate – leveraging strategic foresight – regulatory changes which may affect their operations. For key verticals such as financial services, pharma, natural resources, hospitality, logistics, or media – the ongoing cost of compliance is an unavoidable price of doing business. Connecting the dots is not easy, but automated analysis and analytics can deliver reliable insights.
What have been the most rewarding and difficult aspects of your chosen career or business path?
I find it stimulating and satisfying to work with business leaders and boards to help shape their strategic direction; my work often falls into advisory circles around “we need to stop doing X” or “we desire to do Y but are not sure how to get there”.
Helping organisations be better prepared to face the future and reduce their risk of being blindsided by change is enormously fulfilling for me. This is especially true when I work with them on an retained basis as you really get to see the adaptations occur over time.
In terms of challenges, a common theme is senior executives who have read or heard about a particular technology and seek guidance and empowerment on how to approach it rapidly. Often this is a hammer looking for a nail and, other than some potential short-term positive PR spin, is not the path to sustainable long-term value. We call this “innovation theatre,”, as it's not fundamentally focused on core change but more for show. It’s all about balance.
Are there any skills or areas of expertise that you think are essential for success in your field?
My superpower is being able to take what is occurring at the bleeding edge of innovation and convey the future implications in consumable business language. I’m a passionate believer that we are not victims of what the future might hold if we prepare ourselves in advance.
Being an information junkie is a prerequisite; I spend hours daily researching what might be the newest developments, innovations, pivots, and disruptions.
In my line of work, it’s not enough to just keep abreast of market news on any given day; it’s much more expensive in scale: assessing trends, detecting vectors, forecasting, signal-scanning, scenario-planning, and always challenging yourself to think bigger and not be constrained by existing de-facto norms.
Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers that we haven’t already discussed?
Exploring futures and building anticipation is zero risk for a business. Even with significant resources and smart personnel, it is difficult to anticipate what’s coming around the bend. especially when you are inside looking out.
I therefore challenge business leaders to question if they can afford for their organisations not to ingest, synthesise, and form a viewpoint on swiftly moving horizons, risks, opportunities, and trends, especially in such uncertain times.
Think bold. Think broad. Think beyond.