Wales and its economic coral reef 

I spent today as a guest of the New Economics Foundation & NewStart magazine who are roving a bunch of UK cities, trying to get behind the potential for alternative economic models. The debate in Cardiff was fascinating, and you get the real sense that ‘revolution is in the air’. This is my contribution to the magazine’s output for Cardiff. It really does resonate after today’s meeting.  
I’m an optimist for Wales. I’m not sure you could find someone more optimistic about the future of the Country, whether that be in the capital city, Cardiff, or one of the numerous towns and villages in which Indycube is based. The reason is, I’m convinced Wales will be one of the countries at the forefront of the new economic model that is shaping up, but it won’t be an easy transition.

The superfast transmission of information, data, ideas and ideals has transformed the world in which we live – in fact we’re in the middle of the fastest revolution to ever hit the human race, and the impact will be world changing. Whether that manifests itself in political upheaval across Europe, stock market crashes in China, or tech bubbles in Silicon Valley – these changes will, I think, change the face of our economies for ever, and eventually for the better.

The journey from old economy to new will be most difficult for those who benefit most from the status quo; Big Business and Big Politics. Fortunately, in Wales, we’ve not been home to either. Our businesses are more often small & community centric, and our politics have historically been centred around values and beliefs, rather than slick marketing machines. Wales is, like other small countries, perfectly positioned to try out new ideas, and take risks.

Three key aspects of this new economic model are:

  1. Small is the new big – the mantra of globalisation is being turned on its head. In Indycube, one of our Cardiff based businesses recently beat SnapFish (part of multinational HP) to a contract, and they sit at three desks in one of our shared offices. There’ll be many more like this over the coming months and years.
  2. The way we work has changed, and wilł continue to do so – we’ll never get jobs for life again – we may never get jobs again. The gig economy is here, and increasing rapidly – you’re more likely to be freelancing one week, traveling the next and volunteering the week after in the future than you are working for one employer.
  3. Future Economic Value isn’t all about GDP or GVA – increasingly people are feeling disillusioned with the economic model that has held sway for the last 200 years. Wealth and happiness aren’t all about the bank balance. Just ask someone nearing the end of their lives – they’ll tell you life is about human connections – that’s where real value lies.

Wales’ new economic development will be more akin to a successful coral reef. A coral reef thrives when its individual coral polyps are left to develop in their own way. We need to allow each of our communities to be the best it can be, and not some limp copycat of somewhere else. We encourage our children not to compare themselves with others, and yet with our communities, for too long, we’ve tried to be things we’re not. So often I’ve heard others tell me we’re on the verge of creating Silicon Valleys – I’m sure they believe their own hype that by simply adding an ‘s’ it will be so. Silicon Valley exists – let’s not bother trying to make our own copy, not least because by the time we do it, the world will have moved on to its next unicorn producing centre of activity.

What are we good at in Wales? Close knit communities, family, non-conformist spirit, natural environment, water (it rains a lot, plus we’re surrounded on three sides by the sea)?? Let’s make these the strengths we build our economy on. They’re not all about money, and that’s how it should be.

The problem with this strategy is that it is uncontrolled, and uncontrollable. But the future that I envisage is just that – the only thing that is predictable, is that the world will be unpredictable. Those communities that thrive on chaos and change will be the economic winners this century. To be a thriver, you’ll need your community around you – you’ll need other people to rely on. In terms of work, you’ll need your community of coworkers, and that’s what we’re helping to develop across Wales.

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2 thoughts on “Wales and its economic coral reef 

  1. Mark, a thought provoking and infectiously optimistic article. I think I find the elements on business models more convincing than the positive comments about our political ones which still feel more like stifling state than community based – although there are signs of life at ironically local government level.

    Two questions from me; in general what do people who want to engage in co-working and the sharing economy need to get on (not another Govnt scheme I suspect) and how do we help them get it; and from my personbal perspective, how do we open up the opportunities and excitement to those who feel that McJobs or Asda are all that’s available?

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    • Thanks Chris,

      As I said in my tweet, the piece wasn’t meant to be policy rich, in fact that’s a massive part of the problem as I see it. In a fast-changing world, nobody has the answers, and those that pretend they do, are, at best, mistaken. I think we’d be better if our politicians, instead of telling us they know what they’re doing – it’d be more honest, if they said these are the values they tackle every eventuality by.

      In terms of getting people involved – again this may sound trite, but we need to have the courage to let Wales be what it can be. There’ll be lots of mistakes, for sure, but that will simply be indicators of action, and ultimately progress. But let’s be ourselves not something we’re not. That will happen if we just encourage people to meet others – we’re a chatty bunch, and ‘stuff’ will happen – let serendipity run its course..

      When it comes to not accepting McJobs as the best we can get, this represents a crisis of confidence from most people in Wales. I wrote an article on ending the Welsh Jobs Dowry – have a look if you’ve got 5 (which talks about one area where we’ve evidently lost our mojo) – I’m sure the confidence needs to be fostered and developed one conversation at a time. Think back to how, for example, the Revival was borne out of the Welsh Churches – a couple of disrupters grew into a movement. Wales was ready for that movement, that started with 1-2-1 conversations – I think we’re ready for this now. But it’s not going to be easy, and these 1-2-1 chats take time, and effort, and belief.

      If you’ve time for a coffee in the New Year, do let me know. Perhaps we can have one of those conversations?

      Thanks again for reading it.

      Best Wishes,

      Mark

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