It’s a new year: cue the old routine. Toss out the party hats. Down the ibuprofen and coffee. Let’s comfort ourselves with the cleansing words of motivational mugs and start liking those “inspirational” Instagram posts with dubious fonts. The new year is upon us and dammit, we must get serious.
But serious about what exactly? Here’s what: our only goal should be increasing sustainable economic growth. All right, you might say, so far, so repetitive. After all, who objects to the simple principle of doing better than we did a year ago?
So why repeat it? Why keep banging this drum? The answer is simple. Despite whatever lip service we have given growth, we have not truly made it our driving objective.
In the ten years between 2010 and what is projected by the end of 2020, our GDP per capita increased from US$16,683 annually to the princely amount of (cue drum roll)…US$17,456…a blip of progress scarcely noticeable even in the arc of our country’s brief history.
An entire generation has no concept of dynamic economic growth within their living memory. If you turned 18 ten years ago, you may never have experienced what it is like to live in a place of progress.
Yet, oddly, when you walk about and ask people about the country’s great problems (I have asked hundreds over the past year – there is certainly no shortage of production of opinion), only a small minority mention the need for progress or for growth.
Most point to governments, past and present; many point to inequality, particularly in fashionable development circles; the businessmen blame their workers’ work ethic, workers blame some indefinable oppressive “system.” Almost all fear or resent that someone else has taken a piece of the pie.
There is some truth to all of that. But it misses the mark. We have become so preoccupied with fighting about the status quo and navigating a zero-sum game in which we only win if someone else loses that we have shifted away our attention from making the pie bigger. Look no further than our national income for evidence of that.
This has become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Because we spend all our time competing for scarce resources, we do not grow, and leave ourselves no option but to compete for an ever-shrinking pot.
The success of all modern economies ultimately rests on productive human beings linked together; but this is far truer of a small, open economy, precisely because our local market is simply too small to sustain a meaningful domestic consumer base.
In 2020 we can only grow, and by grow I don’t mean a piddling 0.4 per cent or one per cent, I mean seven or eight per cent or more, if we cluster together to find growth.
In his manual Crossing the Chasm, author Geoffrey Moore, so revered by Silicon Valley technology founders, makes it clear that one of the only ways for firms to overcome the scepticism of a mass audience is to partner with as many people as possible to offer “the whole product solution.”
Just last week, president of the TT Economics Association Indera Sagewan reaffirmed the importance of “clustering.” This advice is crucial if we are serious about selling to international markets.
Clusters can be jump-started by grouping leaders from within a small industry to spot industry-wide challenges and defining how they can co-operate to grow their industry as a whole. In Silicon Valley it takes as few as three people – a back-end software engineer, a “user interface” developer and a business development lead – to start a company. Palo Alto generates so much wealth because those three people can connect very quickly.
Make no mistake: these companies are still in fierce competition with each other. But we can isolate areas where partnering becomes a win-win.
And some of the best advice and connections I have got have been from friends and colleagues in different industries or in complementary areas. Suppliers can work closer with retailers to share market knowledge; while distributors can give more direct feedback to manufacturers on product design. We’re actually quite good at co-operation, as our criminal gangs have nicely demonstrated.
For the new year, let’s identify one partner who can help us grow, whether that means generating more revenue, splitting the costs of entering a new market, or on an individual level finding a mentor to grow in our organisation. By doing that we can we start on the path to serious growth.
Kiran Mathur Mohammed is a social entrepreneur, economist and businessman. He is a former banker, and a graduate of the University of Edinburgh