What can past predictions teach us?

predictions of the future

Six months ago I wrote: “WeWork and remembering lessons of the past“, in which I both predicted the crashing downfall of WeWork, as well as musing on past lessons from market booms and busts, dating back to own my experience observing the investing mania around the ’99 tech bubble. I got both of those right, but that is not the lesson I’m musing on today.

This week I found an archive with some monthly columns I wrote for the Cayman Journal around a decade ago, with the column title “Reinvent or Die”. One, in particular, strikes me today, called “How happy is Cayman?”, which I’ll reprint in full below, as it is striking to me how little has been learned by Cayman and those driving business and society in the intervening decade. Lessons for many, perhaps.

My thoughts for today are, though, less about accuracy or otherwise of predictions, but actually about recording and sharing our thoughts (whether by publishing articles or posts or simply keeping a journal), as in looking back at them there is much that can be learned both personally and in general about the journey we are on.

Oh, and also of being unafraid of our predictions, sometimes we are right, sometimes, wrong, but when we have something to say and to share that we feel strongly about, let us do so. Do not hide or otherwise dim your light.

Now, this bring to mind something to share. In business and investment, an all-time favourite is the annual letters Warren Buffett has written to Berkshire Hathaway shareholders since 1965. These are folksy, pithy, eminently readable and full of gems, predictions, opinions and more from one of the greatest investors the world has ever known. I devour each annual letter and have done every year for over twenty years. Oh, and he has got it right a lot, but also got it wrong.

Now to re-reading my more than nine-year-old article on Cayman, where several things strike me.

The article “How happy is Cayman?” was published in August 2010, over nine years ago. Looking back, three themes strike me in particular:

  • Writing Connects. This was one of the first time I wrote with thoughts inspired by Chip Conley. Many years, later, through a more recent blog from late 2017, Chip and I met and our connection and friendship is now something I value deeply. I write to share what I learn. What I did not anticipate when I started to write was how it would connect me so much to people around the world.
  • Bravery and Transformative Change. I titled my monthly column “Reinvent or Die”, as I felt strongly then, as now, that Cayman as a wealthy country can lack bravery to step out of that comfort zone. My place, then as now, is to support leaders on their own journey of brave and transformative change.
  • Plus ça change. The more things change, the more they stay the same. It saddens me that I wrote the article in 2010, yet now we are in 2019, everything I wrote about is the same in Cayman, only accentuated.

How happy is Cayman?

originally published August 2009

In last month’s column, I focused on the need to remove the friction in the gears of business for Cayman Inc. so that we can move forward with the new ideas we so sorely need to reinvent our country. However, even if we can lubricate those gears, we still need to shake our thinking up, as the evidence shows we are still not doing enough to think different.

Abraham Maslow, author of Hierarchy of Needs said: “When the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem begins to resemble a nail.” We all have a tendency to go with the tried and trusted, rather than choosing a more effective option but with which we are less familiar, skilled, or experienced.

To give just one recent example of old hammers in Cayman, we are so used to a system where electoral districts have multiple representatives that the Boundary Commission report of June 2010 called the option of single member constituencies controversial despite the majority of respondents favouring that option.

So, to stir up (I hope!) some to think different, let me ask: How Happy is Cayman?
For more than a generation, Caymanians have been driven to achieve, but to achieve based almost solely on material measures. Put another way: Money, money, money!

Now, as we sit mired in a global recession, but after 25 or so years of the Cayman economic miracle, let’s pause and ask ourselves how happy has this made us?

We have larger homes, but we have bigger mortgages. We now run the a/c all the time instead of opening the windows, but complain about the electricity bill. We drive trucks and massive SUVs, but complain about the price of the gas they guzzle. Worst of all, we spend so much time working to fuel our new Cayman lifestyle that we forget that time is the ultimate measure of wealth and have less and less time to spend on what matters, like our children’s upbringing, our elders, our community.

Let’s look beyond our shores to an unexpected source. In 1972, in the Himalayan mountain Kingdom of Bhutan, a teenage king came to the throne. Early in his reign, he was asked by a foreign journalist about the GDP of his country. He replied “Why are we so obsessed and focused with gross domestic product?

Why don’t we care more about gross national happiness?”

Decades later, the Bhutanese now have their government, society, economy focused on four pillars, nine key indicators and 72 metrics that actually help to measure their GNH.

Much of the above I picked up from following Chip Conley, a thought leader on the ideas of Maslow and others. Chip spoke about GNH in a recent TED speech, I encourage you to Google it and other TED Talks; they are most thought-provoking.

On a trip to Bhutan, Chip’s thoughts crystallised to the Bhutanese believe happiness equals wanting what you have — imagine gratitude — divided by having what you want — gratification. The Bhutanese aren’t on some aspirational treadmill, constantly focused on what they don’t have.

Here in Cayman, we have so much to be thankful for in our daily lives, our family, our friends, our beautiful Islands. I’m not suggesting we go back to the old days of smoke pots and thatch, but is the constant pounding of the treadmill seeking ever more material gains truly the best future for Cayman, or is it just the only hammer in our toolkit?

Also published on Medium.