Recently, I attended an IBM user group meeting where I learned about “cloud computing.” The presentation was all about saving money and hosting software and the way of the future. When we broke for lunch to discuss how “cloud computing” could change the way we do business, I had just one question.

“What is ‘cloud computing’?”

Ideas that don’t connect with real life often don’t stick with us. As the Heath brothers say in their book, Made to Stick, “Language is often abstract, but life is not abstract.”

So what should the presenter have done to make cloud computing more concrete? Get his head out of the clouds? Actually, the best thing he could have done would have been to get our heads into the clouds.

Just tonight, I think I figured out the real value of cloud computing as I labored over setting up my new laptop. I had to reconfigure my internet connection to go wireless; I had to install my printer; I had to move email contacts and recategorize “My Documents.” Then, I had to download software just to be able to type this post. Wouldn’t it be great if all that stuff was just stored somewhere, like on a network, and all I had to do when I got my new computer was just log on?

That’s cloud computing.

And that’s a concrete way of bringing my head into the clouds. Why couldn’t the presenter have explained it that way: giving me an example, showing me what the idea looks like. 

Giving people concrete ways of connecting with our ideas isn’t hard. We just sometimes forget: “we forget that we’re slipping into abstractspeak. We forget that other people don’t know what we know. We’re the engineers who keep flipping back to our drawings, not noticing that the assemblers just want us to follow them down to the factory floor.”

Maybe we just need to get our heads out of into the clouds.

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