This week I've got all the luck: I'm in architecturally gorgeous Cartagena, Colombia, on the Caribbean, for the Global Business Policy Council’s annual CEO Retreat. Cartagena (or, more formally, Cartagena de Indias) in its heyday was one of the world's greatest trading hubs, so it's a fitting place from which to survey what's going on in business, politics, culture, and technology around the globe. With some 50 CEOs and some of the world's brightest minds, we're discussing what leaders need to know about what's ahead. A change of scenery with remarkable people to talk to means getting a refreshing take on what's happening in the world. We all could use the time out with remarkable people we don't already know and, as a friend likes to say, "stop breathing our own exhaust.”
With all the negative headlines of recent days—the ISIS crisis in Iraq, the continued issues between Ukraine and Russia, dangerous tensions in the South and East China Seas, to name a few—we can get too fixated on the negative and miss new opportunities. Take Colombia, a country that has suffered from some undeniable challenges, is a remarkable story of economic and societal regeneration that few thought possible. It just became Latin America's third largest economy, surpassing Argentina, and it's much safer now.
Colombia's comeback story highlights the problem with traditional forecasting, which tends to extrapolate past and current trends into the future. Things simply don't work that way, and if you're a shrewd investor that's a good thing: Opportunities come to those who can see a bit further over the horizon than their competitors.
That's not to say that the complexity and velocity of everything hasn't left us all a bit breathless. As a fellow participant quipped today, finance moves at the speed of light; trade at the speed of container ships; and government at the speed of bureaucracy. While the global economy continues to recover and many dangers have receded, the rebound has been fragile and also quite uneven between and within countries. Latin America has, in the past decade, faced three "supercycles" that may now be tapering off: high commodity prices driven by demand from China and elsewhere; cheap money and easy credit; and, in some countries, the channeling of overflowing coffers into populist political programs.
If anything, governments around the world, whatever their structures or political hues, are struggling to keep up, and power is "harder to use and easier to lose." Gridlock, weak mandates, polarized polities, the rise of new populist and protest movements (for example, the eye-popping EU parliamentary election results last month), and the inability to satisfy middle class expectations are symptoms that we're seeing across a wide range of countries and continents. It’s tough to see how this can be addressed.
I'll continue reporting from Cartagena this week in my role as Senior Adviser to A.T. Kearney's Global Business Policy Council, so look for more updates. If you stroll the historic streets and see the evidence of the great wealth that was created here, you can see why Sir Francis Drake held it up for ransom, taking massive amounts of loot in exchange for not leveling the place. Losing Cartagena would have been a tragedy, and fortunately we can still enjoy this UNESCO World Heritage Site. If you haven't been here, hurry to put it on your list.