The other day I watched Ford v Ferrari, a Matt Damon film from last year that detailed Ford’s project to create a vehicle that could win the famed 24 hours of Le Mans race. I’m no petrol head, but the movie was an interesting glimpse into the monstrous ego of Henry Ford II, and the “at any costs” attempts to beat Enzo Ferrari and his marque’s engineering prowess.

At one point in the movie, the Ford team was having issues with the car’s brakes overheating. Rather than thinking within the existing constraints, the engineering team came up with the idea of swapping out the entire brake assembly in one piece mid-race as a way to allow the drivers to run the brakes hotter without worrying about failure. It’s an interesting notion – one in which thinking outside of the box, and changing things on the fly are the modus operandi.

I was reminded of this notion while listening to the sobering thoughts of Umair Haque. Haque is an American economist who is based in the US. Recently he espoused his views on New Zealand’s society in general, and our Prime Minister in particular. Haque suggested that New Zealand is a model for the rest of the world and, at a time when many other countries are going up in flames as divisive and isolationist leaders and policies come to the fore, Ardern’s message of kindness is a refreshing and needed change.

Haque was recently interviewed on Radio New Zealand about his views on the future of his homeland. In case you were in any doubt on his perspective, the article in question was titled It’s Not that I’m Negative, America Really is Screwed. In his article, Haque suggests that the decline of the US is irreversible – he says that after decades of not providing for health, education and social support, the US economy is in a position where it simply cannot bridge the financial gap and that the social unrest we see today is a direct result of the feeling of helplessness of many citizens.

It’s not exactly a cheery thought – no matter your view on the US of A, the fact is that it’s the world’s biggest financial and military player and what happens to it has an impact everywhere else. Add to that the fact that it is currently ruled by a sociopath with an itchy finger and access to the nuclear launch codes and a proven propensity to do rash things for purely self-interested reasons, and we should certainly be concerned.

Now it’s always easy to go with the pessimistic perspective – Haque’s Chicken Little view, that the sky is falling and there is no cure, makes for great headlines. But the best headlines don’t always track to the reality of the situation. Is America and, by extension, modern society, really doomed? Or perhaps we can take a leaf from the book of the Ford engineers who rethought their paradigm and, in doing so, took home the win at Le Mans.

You see, it’s easy to say the world is doomed, and that nothing we can do makes any difference and so we should just carry on with our current way of living. If we’re all doomed, there’s no reason to change things, right? Climate change, global pandemics, income inequality – they’re all huge problems that individuals can’t solve, right?

But what if we could change things while going forwards. What if we could subvert the model without everything collapsing. What if, as the saying goes, a journey of a thousand miles really does start with the first step and that sole individual standing in from of a tank in Tiananmen Square really did change the course of history.

The reality is that truly transformational change takes time and, while it’s happening, life goes on as normal. Sometimes the impact of our actions can only be truly observed after the event. So, yeah, there is hope. While Haque’s view is compelling, if we buy into the vision that the world is going to hell in a handbasket, then there is little point in even trying to change things.

So here a plaintive wail for giving it a go and, despite the overwhelming obstacles, trying to effect change. It worked for the Ford team at Le Mans, maybe it can work for us as well.


Ben Kepes

Ben Kepes is a technology evangelist, an investor, a commentator and a business adviser. Ben covers the convergence of technology, mobile, ubiquity and agility, all enabled by the Cloud. His areas of interest extend to enterprise software, software integration, financial/accounting software, platforms and infrastructure as well as articulating technology simply for everyday users.

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