Imagine being Mark Zuckerberg: ridiculously wealthy, absurdly famous, outlandishly powerful—plus, you’ve only ever had one job since you were 19, and that job is being CEO of Facebook.
It’s grown under your leadership from a dorm room project to one of the biggest companies in the world (at least according to Wall Street). And it’s grown despite people telling you at every single turn — starting back in the days when you had to go before a disciplinary board at Harvard — that you were doing things wrong.
Now, imagine that there’s a big threat to Facebook. There are only a few forces on Earth powerful enough to take on your company—national governments, maybe (tell that to Australia). But otherwise, we’re talking about the other tech behemoths.
And one of them, Apple, has Facebook clearly in its sights. Short version:
Apple is changing its privacy rules so that app developers (that’s you, if you’re Zuckerberg, since most people use Facebook on their phones) will have to request permission before tracking users.
This runs squarely into your business model, where the entire thing is about tracking user activity to sell "personalized ads."
My colleague Jason Aten over on Inc.com has done a great job covering the controversy in greater detail. Taken to its conclusion, it could wind up with Apple either telling Facebook it can’t update the Facebook app on iPhones, or else Facebook having to adjust its main business.
It’s pretty close to war, and I think a lot of people could have predicted something like this would eventually happen.
The reason? It's a byproduct of Zuckerberg's meteoric success.
Like a lot of successful leaders, one of his big risks now is the idea of surrounding himself entirely with people who owe their livelihoods to him—and who therefore would need to be extraordinarily courageous to tell him no, when his mind is 100% made up to say yes.
Has anyone in the history of America, if not the modern world, ever been more uniquely positioned to be at risk for this?
I think the crumbs were there way back when Zuckerberg built the first iteration of Facebook at Harvard, and the student newspaper wrote about it:
Go back and read them, and you realize that Zuckerberg grew up fairly normally until the brief, four-month period in 2004 when it all changed. Since then, he’s never had a “normal” life: never had a boss, never had to apply for a job, never had to worry about rent, or roommates—never had to work anywhere that he didn't want to, or in an environment that he didn't create himself.
He never had to listen to anybody else—and, it always, always, always paid off.
At least, until now.
For sake of argument, imagine that Zuckerberg is 100 percent wrong about how Facebook should be responding to Apple in this existential war. How would he know?
Who around him would object, that he would listen to, and could trust and respect?
I’ve written before about my sort of odd dream that Bill Gates might turn out to be the person who could provide mentorship, or even a “just-as-successful” sounding baord for Zuckerberg.
But both sides would have to want it. I don’t see that here, to be honest.
Look, I'm not one of those people who hates on Facebook to the ends of the earth. I take the good with the bad: For one thing, my college girlfriend and I reconnected on the platform. We're now married and have a daughter.
I'm also very clear on the fact that I would not have done anywhere near as well as Zuckerberg if you'd taken the silly things I was into when I was 19 or 20, extrapolated them, and told me I'd still be doing them [censored] years later.
But I also think it's possible to hold two competing things in mind at the same time:
People learn to hold competing perspectives through hardship and failure—seeing the good that comes out of bad, and sometimes the bad that comes out of good.
They learn them by sometimes having to do things they don't want to do, and by recognizing that no matter how successful they are, there are other people they can learn from.
Wouldn't it be ironic, and frankly kind of devastating, if you were Zuckerberg, and that never having had to admit you're wrong might lead you to the biggest mistakes of all?
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Thanks for reading. Photo credit: Anthony Quintano on Flickr. I’ve sort of written about part of this before on Inc.com. If you’re not yet a subscriber, please sign up for the daily Understandably.com email newsletter—with thousands and thousands of 5-star ratings from happy readers.
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