When we engage cloud providers do we disengage our brains?
Though coverage and public discussion of the implications of a recent cluster of cloud services outages appears to be waning somewhat, I still find myself thinking about it from different angles, at least for a moment, almost every day. One of the recurring questions bouncing around looking for some company in my head is “have we developed a habit of abdicating our thinking when we engage cloud providers, and was that at least partially responsible for the impact of those outages?” Just to clarify the question, I am not suggesting that abdication of thought caused the outages. Rather, I wondered whether it exacerbated their impact.
In a previous post I discussed some strategies for ensuring your business remains protected when cloud services are in use. This question is an extension of that thinking. I also mentioned that it’s your logo on the site or service you offer to your customers and therefore, it is your responsibility to ensure your business continues to operate smoothly even when a third party’s service is disrupted. Being conscious of that is a significant, necessary first step toward protecting your business. Though that appears to be a remarkable statement of the obvious (something I’m fairly good at), it is much more than that.
Research shows that people tend to think less for themselves in the presence of experts. In a tremendous TED Talk, Noreena Hertz discusses research that discovered that people shut down the independent decision-making part of their brain when they believed they were in the presence of experts. In her words “it flat-lined.” So it’s more than a myth that humans can subconsciously “stop thinking” when experts are involved. And experts, being human, make mistakes and, at times, do not possess all of the facts or data that would result in a different decision entirely, so this can be a very dangerous and potentially damaging scenario.
So, my question is whether or not the sort of thing Noreena Hertz is referring to is happening, even if to a lesser extent, when organizations move their workloads and services to the cloud (or to any third party). I believe the answer is “it doesn’t really matter.” We’re better off if we always assume this sort of behavior is possible and do our best to avoid it. Countless experts in countless fields such as healthcare, education, or personal finance have stated that nobody will care more about the wellbeing of your health (fill in the blank… finances, education, children…) than you. (Incidentally, I realize the horrible irony of that reference to experts in this context.)
As I was thinking about this, I wondered whether I had ever succumbed to the temptation to let an expert take over and to switch my own brain off. It didn’t take long for me to recall a conference I participated in a number of years ago. About mid-way through the week I had fourteen half-hour meetings and a presentation scheduled in one day. The presentation, which was in a different venue, was wedged between the thirteenth and the final meeting. As I rushed to the final meeting I met Steve Gadd, a colleague of mine with more experience than I in the topic to be discussed. He agreed to join me and when the meeting began and he answered the first question, in a tribute to Homer Simpson, my brain sprouted wings and flew out of the building. “I looked over at you for confirmation and you had on a thousand mile stare”, was how Steve summed it up. So, whilst this may not be a perfect parallel, can you think of times something similar may have happened to you?
When we engage cloud providers, or any experts, it’s up to us to keep our brains engaged and to think through services, opportunities, and potential issues as if we were going to provide them ourselves. As Jim Morrsion urged us, we need to keep our eyes on the road and stay in control of the direction of our business, and as I once heard Walter Wolfman Washington sing, “you’ve got to be thinking for yourself.”
So, do you think that this issue is real? Am I, perhaps, doing too much “thinking for myself”? Do you have any stories you can share that confirm this phenomenon, or perhaps suggest it is not happening? If you do I would be grateful if you would share them.