Back to the F**kture: Henry Coutinho-Mason

type - podcast
In episode four of the Back to The F**kture podcast, Martin Raymond caught up with long-time forecaster and entrepreneur Henry Coutinho-Mason, who has just left his job as managing director of to become director of content strategy with Brent Hoberman and his team at Founders Forum, Europe’s answer to SXSW minus the oat milk tents and banjo yoga classes on the side

For many in the strategic foresight sector, the move may seem a little surprising, but as Coutinho-Mason explains, once you understand where new and emerging trends are coming from, you can better identify which innovators, disruptors or tech start-ups are most on-message in terms of the incoming zeitgeist, and consequently, which ones investors should be looking at and thinking about first.

For years, he tells me, wearing his managing director’s hat at, he did exactly that: identifying the trends that matter, profiling the innovators that were driving them, and reminding his many clients globally which brands they should look to for inspiration and insight.

On that basis his move to Founders Forum is hardly surprising. While the tech sector in some ways defines disruption, in other ways it can still be slow to see where the zeitgeist is leading us – in this case, towards green, clean, and collaborative innovation and disruption. This is an area, as Coutinho-Mason points out, that Silicon Valley has been slow to tune into, while EU and UK clean tech brands have been leading the way. ‘In a recent issue of MIT Technology Review’s The Green Future Index, the majority of clean innovation companies, or patents being registered for the same, were based in Europe rather than the US.’

And while this surprised some analysts, it didn’t really surprise trend forecasters like Coutinho-Mason. ‘Europe tends to be left-leaning, more invested in social enterprise, less partisan about issues such as climate change, sustainability, and the way we need to consider planet and people before profit and shareholder value. Politicians on the left and right can therefore agree on key legislative issues such as climate change policy, investment in tech start-ups, backing brands that have a green tech agenda and so on – all of which places UK and EU start-ups in a unique position over the coming decade.’

This intersection of politics, entrepreneurialism and business pragmatism is nothing new to Coutinho-Mason, as I learned in our chat. He studied politics and international relations at university (and has a first-class degree to show for it), graduated to work as an auditor for KPMG – ‘where you get a great grounding in how businesses work on the inside and how you need to analyse and interrogate data’ – before moving on to work at in what was, as he tells it, a senior strategist’s role that he wasn’t quite qualified for; well, not in the traditional sense. But like all good forecasters, Coutinho-Mason thinks in non-traditional and wholly non-obvious ways, not unlike his friend and sometime mentor Rohit Bhargava, with whom he is currently co-writing his next book, The Future Normal.

Published by:

9 April 2021

Author: Martin Raymond and Henry Coutinho-Mason



Rohit, for those who don’t know him, is the forecaster’s forecaster, and a man who doesn’t just think outside the box, he thinks there are no boxes, just opportunities we can’t quite grasp or see unless we look at the world in a non-obvious way. And this, says Coutinho-Mason, is what The Future Normal will do: help us develop clear and inspirational road ’maps for tomorrow. It’s a book, but it’s also a community and a blog where ‘we’ll highlight pioneering start-ups and new initiatives from big incumbents’. ‘Many will appear niche or fantastical today, but we’ll explain why they are worth watching, how they will reshape expectations and how they will be central to The Future Normal.’

The big difference about the project, says Coutinho-Mason, ‘is that that it focuses on those initiatives that usher in positive change, celebrate people making a difference, a planet that is thriving’. ‘It’s wholly optimistic in that sense and pushes back against the negativity and fear of science and change we have been experiencing over the past 3–5 years. We want to look at how humanity can thrive and what we need to do to make this happen.’

But even with his new work, he remains a forecaster at heart. ‘In the old days, you could have a job as a forecaster standing up in a boardroom and showing people things they hadn’t seen before. And that was enough to blow their minds! Now everything is out there, everything is circulating on social networks, and most people, unless they are stone-headed, know where to look.’

‘Today, you have to be an interpreter, to take people on a journey, tell stories, show them how a weak signal that sits in one sector of a sphere is likely to bubble up into many others. ‘People tend to be narrowcast: they look at ideas and innovations from their own industries and from their own competitors, when really the trick is to look across industries, where you soon see that innovations in one sector influence customer expectations in another – which, given that no two industries are aligned in terms of speed to market, is a very powerful way in itself to ‘see’ into the future.’

But seeing the future this way can be a challenge, especially if clients come with a fixed view of what they want, which he believes is increasingly the case, rather than what they need or what they should be asking in terms of that overall crucial open-ended first question… ‘Speed to market might be the focus, and a fashion brand, say, wants to know about fast fashion and how they can up their game against Zara, for instance.

‘So that’s what they concentrate on, but what it doesn’t help them do is to spot a fashion start-up in city X, say, that is running a Spotify- or Netflix-style model, whereby you can pay a monthly fee or hourly fee and get what you want online. This completely changes the paradigm, and the industry [as Airbnb and Uber did for hotels and mobility]. And yet, by asking such a narrow question up front, or predetermining their line of attack, so to speak, they risk becoming an industry memory rather than an industry player.’

Forecasting isn’t just about anticipating change, he concludes, it’s also about knowing what won’t change in the long term and using that to determine which of the changes you are monitoring are going to have the most profitable and positive impact on tomorrow.

To hear more of Henry’s thoughts, click here. You can also follow The Future Normal blog and register for an early copy of the follow-up book here.

You can tune in to the podcast on Audioboom, Spotify, Apple or watch the full Zoomcast below.