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Q & A: Gen. Colin Powell On Leadership In Times Of Change

Former Secretary of State Colin Powell speaks with InformationWeek about "commander's risk," cybersecurity, H1-B visas, Facebook, and his most immediate concerns for the United States.

Former Secretary of State Colin Powell, in an exclusive interview with InformationWeek editor in chief Rob Preston, offered his views on leadership, information security, H1-B visas, and the pervasiveness of IT, among other issues. The retired general spoke with InformationWeek in advance of his keynote speech, titled "Leadership In Times Of Change," at The Fortify Executive Summit and ISE Mid-Atlantic Awards program, to take place in Washington on May 4. Following are excerpts of that interview.

InformationWeek: "Leadership In Times Of Change." What's the gist of what you'll be discussing next week in Washington?

Gen. Powell: I'll be talking about how the world has changed from the days when I first came into the Army and we were living in an almost monolithic world, with a Soviet Union, the United States, and the Chinese empire, and now we are a flattening, globalized world driven as much by economic forces as political or military forces and how it is being reshaped by the information revolution. I can't keep up. I was born analog, was raised analog, and lived most of my life analog. I had to become digital over the last 20 years, and I've had to work hard at it because my business required it either as a solider or a diplomat or in my private life. But I've also had to draw the line and I'm not going to go into all of these -- let me not offend anyone -- Facebook, Twitter, and the like.

I'm pretty good with all this stuff. Right now as I talk with you, I have three computers going in my home office and I'm constantly on the Net. One of my associates e-mailed me and said you really have to get on Facebook, and I said I know all about Facebook, but I'm really so consumed with all the stuff I do now I don't think I want any more. I've got to hold on here to a little bit of my time. And the young lady e-mailed me back the very next day and said, not to worry, you're already on Facebook. Somebody already signed you up, complete with a picture. And I said, well, I'm going to get my lawyers. They can't do that. And she said, before you sue, you already have 16,000 friends.

My 14-year-old grandson won't answer e-mail. He'll only answer texts or tweets. I'm fascinated by all this and watching how these kids are inhaling this stuff and how they are born to this stuff, while I have to constantly convert from analog to digital.

InformationWeek: You've been quoted as saying: "Experts often possess more data than judgment." Please explain. In our line of business, data is considered critical to informed decision-making, but where can reliance on data go too far?

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