Trump’s Paris Pullout Won’t Derail White House Summit, But Will Tech Lead?


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When does business-as-usual stop being business as usual? For tech leaders joining a high-profile White House summit later this month, that breaking point seems to lie on an infinitely receding horizon.

On June 19, the American Technology Council, led by President Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, will hold its first meeting. Attendees will include the CEOs of Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, Oracle, and IBM. Alphabet/Google will send its executive chairman, Eric Schmidt. Facebook has been invited, too, but hasn’t yet responded (Bloomberg).

After Trump announced he was pulling the U.S. out of the Paris climate accord, Tesla’s Elon Musk and Disney’s Bob Iger both resigned from their roles on Trump advisory committees. But it looks like few of their peers are following them to the exits.

Trump’s presidency kicked off with a campaign against immigration that set off a rebellion among tech workers. The administration’s position on climate change has triggered revulsion in an industry that’s always looking to the future. Trump’s team sits under a deepening cloud of scandal, and Kushner’s meeting with Russian bankers has placed him at the center of an FBI investigation.

But for now, the executives who run the digital world are sticking to their inside-game plan. Given the Trump team’s lack of interest and follow-through in the messy details of actual policy and planning, the American Technology Council may amount to nothing — a big photo-op with few results. But the employees and customers of the leaders who will meet at the White House on June 19 have a right to ask these CEOs: How, exactly, are you leading?

In Britain, Conservative Mandate Crumbles, and Brexit Trembles

Voters in the U.K. walloped the dominant Conservative party yesterday and injected a new dose of uncertainty into global markets. Prime Minister Theresa May thought her snap election would strengthen her hand as she negotiates the nation’s exit from the European Union; instead, she has brought the process to a whole new level of unpredictability (Peter Goodman in The New York Times).

When voters speak, their message doesn’t always point in a single direction. A humbler May, or a new leader, might try to renegotiate the country’s exit from the EU along softer lines. Or confusion and disarray in London could make the Brexit process more chaotic than anyone now expects. A worst-case “no deal” scenario gets the cheery label of “going over the cliff edge.”

For the rest of the world, the surprise election result from Britain also casts big doubts on the assumptions pundits were making less than six months ago about a new era of anti-globalism, in which the Brexit vote and Donald Trump’s win had launched a new era of economic decoupling and conservative backlash. Now France has elected a mainstream centrist, Britain’s isolationist fever has broken, and the triumphal parade of Steve Bannon-style, every-country-for-itself nationalism looks more like a road to nowhere.

Are reports of retail’s demise exaggerated?

Axios assembled a panel of experts to weigh in on what many are seeing as 2017’s implosion in the in-person retail market as massive amounts of consumer purchasing switch over to online buying. These experts acknowledge the scope of the change but share a relatively hopeful view for the offline shopping future: People like to look a salesperson in the eye. They love to browse a store that’s thoughtfully curated. Online shopping is “no fun.” If you lack a credit card and live by cash, you’ll never adopt an Amazon lifestyle.

There’s some truth in all of this. But this consensus can sound suspiciously like all those newspaper-industry pundits who said people would never give up the feel of paper and the smell of ink — or the music-industry analysts who argued that we’d never give up the joy of collecting recordings stored on physical objects for the sterile abstraction of streaming.

These tenets tend to hold true — until, suddenly, they don’t. Generational change is a powerful force. Kids raised on the convenience of online comparison-shopping, bargain-hunting, and home delivery may occasionally be lured to a speciality retailer or a trendy downtown shopping district. But they’re never going back to the days when the department store and the mall were king, any more than they will pay for a newspaper or build a CD collection.

Would You Fire the Engineer Who Nuked the Database?

A developer on his first day at his first job somehow managed to erase his company’s entire production database. The firm’s CTO promptly fired him and suggested that he should hire a lawyer. “CScareerthrowaway567” posted his tale of woe on Reddit — and a chorus of outrage arose (Quartz).

Of course, our developer made a dreadful mistake. The problem is that this company apparently lacked the kinds of safeguards, backups, and practices that would appropriately protect it from inevitable human errors.

If your database is in danger of disappearing with a single keystroke by a single junior engineer, you have bigger problems than “I hired a careless programmer.” As throngs of Reddit contributors pointed out, a well-run company that found itself in this plight ought to be thinking about axing its CTO, not its careless developer.

Better yet, don’t fire anyone. Instead, figure out why your system broke down. If failures are turned into executions, an organization can never learn from its mistakes.

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