I'm returning to the US this week after spending the past 14 months in Asia, observing Cloud Computing and the nations of the world from this vantage point.
I'm pessimistic, and this view comes after a long life of (potentially deluded) optimism.
A History of Optimism
When Unix showed the way out of choosing between Orwellian mainframe environments and the horrible, clunky little toy called DOS/Windows, I was optimistic.
When CD-ROM brought high-density storage to our little PCs for the first time, I was optimistic. The rise of personal email, followed shortly thereafter by the Worldwide Freaking Web made me more optimistic than ever.
Then, a brief pause while those much smarter than I figured out how to corral Web Services, decoupling and loose recoupling, virtualization, SOA, Ajax, and all of the front-end and back-end scripting and languages languages that come with them into Cloud Computing-and I was optimistic again!
But today I see a United States that may have finally wounded itself fatally as the world's economic and political leader through a combination of self-indulge, a sense of entitlement, and a media- and entertainment-driven Idiocracy that is winning the tug-of-war against knowledge and intelligence.
I see a developed world that has long resented US power but may now be panicking in the absence of it.
I've also seen a China up close that is nowhere near ready to assume global leadership in any capacity-as if anyone in the US would really want it to. And I've the hundreds of millions in Southeast Asia who wonder what the heck is going on. "I thought Obama was going to fix everything," is a common lament in the region. "I thought Americans were smart."
Is This the Titanic For Real?
So I would like to think we're not arranging deck chairs on the Titanic. Maybe the continuing waves of immigration will continue to keep the country strong and vibrant. The US has a population growth rate that's almost twice that of China (albeit with a much smaller population), with most of that coming from immigration.
But Cloud is not going to resuscitate the US economy and continue to breathe life into the rest of the world unless there is enough national and corporate leadership to make it happen.
Leadership is the most prized commodity among, well, leaders. Without it, organizations and countries fail.
Hellbent for Leather
The word's roots are simple and humble enough, coming from the Old English and German"leder," or "leather." You lead the horses with the leather straps, the leder. And that's it. Nothing profound or transcendent.
We expect our leaders to do much more than hang onto the straps. We expect them to transcend the day-to-day humdrum, to set a tone and create a vision, and Lead with a capital L.
As no less an expert than John Seely Brown, former Xerox Parc director, has said, "A company's top executives should educate themselves about the potential for cloud computing...to prepare for disruption & transformation."
American technology companies have done a fantastic job in assuming leadership in all aspects of Cloud Computing.
But who amongst us believes that the US currently has the political leadership-I'm talking about those in power through the federal and state governments, not just one person-to bring the US out of its worst economy in three decades? I didn't think so.
And do you believe in your company's leadership? Or are you one of those leaders, and do you believe in yourself? I hope so.