Classic cars crisscrossing the streets. Gorgeous architecture crumbling into decay. An economy struggling to come out of the cold war shadows.
Murray and I had the distinct impression that Havana would have become the Paris of Latin America if the embargo hadn’t pushed the pause button on Cuba’s development over 50 years ago.
A few days into our trip, we had the good fortune to sit down with Humberto Blanco., a Phd economist at the University of Havana to learn a bit more about the country we were visiting, and he laid out his hopeful-yet-realistic plan for what it would take for Cuba to come out of the shadows and enter the world economy…
What he said took me by surprise, and actually turned into a huge business lesson on how an “underdog” can still become a leader if it makes wise decisions…
First of all, here are some numbers. First thing you’ll notice is that they don’t bode well for Cuba.
• Cuba has a tiny population of just 11 million people (compared to the United States with 320 million and China with almost 1.4 billion)
• Cuba has a birth rate of just 1.6 babies per woman, which isn’t enough to even maintain their current population
• Cuba’s economy has been growing at an average rate of less than 3% a year
How can a country that’s so far behind possibly catch up? How can a tiny country of 11 million people compete with economic giants like China and the United States?
But what’s the one thing that every underdog has that can’t be taken away or underestimated?
Answer: its knowledge and its capacity & desire to innovate.
If Cuba wants to grow, Umberto’s vision is that it shift away from a labor-based economy to an innovation-based economy…
It sounds simple enough — but as Umberto went on to say, their biggest challenge to growth is changing people’s habits, behaviors, values, and attitudes that keep them stuck on pause…
When I think about myself and the thousands of entrepreneurs I work with, I realized that our growth arc is very much like Cuba’s.
In the early years of building a business, it’s tempting to think – if I just work harder, then I’ll get ahead. But the truth is, as solopreneurs, we can’t rely on time, labor and hard-work alone to make or break our success. There is only so much time in a day.
If we sell our time by the hour, soon we’ll have nothing left to sell.
The real quantum leap in business comes from harnessing your knowledge to create value and innovation that no one else can.
Innovation can be defined as a “a new method, idea, product, etc.” and it starts with asking questions like:
• What’s one thing you would change about your industry if you could?
• What’s one thing that’s being overlooked by your peers in the industry?
• What new needs will your customers have in the next 3-5 years?
• What opportunities exist that haven’t been developed yet?
• If you were to start your business from scratch today, what would you do to maximize your impact and leverage?
All it takes is one good idea to revolutionize an industry or create an entirely new one.
You could have that idea. Who knows, you may already have that idea. Never underestimate the power of your ideas and vision. You are as unique as a snowflake… and you have the potential to change the world with who you are and what you know.
And as for the Cubans?
Humberto was smiling as he reported that they have already begun to export their innovative biotech and organic farming technology to other Latin American countries. It seems his vision is already taking root.