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An inspirational read that benefits by focusing not just on Facebook but other great companies, as well
on January 16, 2013
Ekaterina Walter wants you to "Think Like Zuck." She has written a book of the same name, subtitled, "The Five Business Secrets of Facebook's Improbably Brilliant CEO Mark Zuckerberg." I was provided a free copy of the book so that I could furnish you with a review.
"Think Like Zuck" is easy to recommend, popping with inside information about how Facebook became the force it is today, but the book benefits by considering more than just Facebook and its founder, Mark Zuckerberg (or Zuck, as he likes to be called). Included in the book are interesting insights and tales from companies as diverse as Zappos, XPLANE, TOMS Shoes, Southwest, Apple, Dyson, 3M and JESS3. This makes the book much more approachable by bringing the lessons of good leadership out of the world of dorm room startups and into the realm of retailers, airlines and manufacturers.
Walter's "Five Ps" that form the structure of "Think Like Zuck" are not that surprising. No one, I imagine, will see the list and think, "I never would have thought that was important!" Those Five Ps are Passion, Purpose, People, Product and Partnerships. The magic in the book is not that Walter has hit upon a secret recipe but that she so thoroughly explores why each of these are important to the success enjoyed by Facebook and other industry leaders.
This isn't to say that I completely agree with the five criteria Walter shares. For example, she goes into great detail about why passion is important, but I was left feeling this chapter would be better labeled with a different "P": Perseverance. In fact, Walter herself sounds a little unsure when she says, "What I noticed is this: the most successful entrepreneurs always have one trait in common: they never give up." One can have passion without perseverance--we all know people who have been wildly passionate about a hobby or issue one day while ignoring it the next--but it is difficult to have perseverance without passion.
One portion of the Passion chapter that I found interesting is about how Zuck and other successful leaders take inspiration from things that exist rather than wholly inventing something new. Says Walter, "We have this misconception that our entrepreneurial ideas or the products we want to create have to be one hundred percent original, never done before. The truth is that some of the most successful entrepreneurs (as well as marketers, I might add) steal with pride." Zuck, the book points out, got started a year after Friendster and MySpace were taking off, but he was able to bring significant innovations to the idea of social networking because of his passion for openness and transparency. (Maybe this is another missing "P": Piracy? Or, perhaps more kindly, Permutation?)
I would have liked to see "Think Like Zuck" spend more time on how great leaders have the ability to be patient and strive for long-term success rather than chasing after quarterly stock maximization. The book touches on this without diving deep. For instance, Zuck felt it was vital he retain majority ownership of Facebook even after its IPO, noting, "Companies are set up so that people judge each other on failure. I am not going to get fired if we have a bad year. Or a bad five years. I don't have to worry about making things look good if they're not. I can actually set up the company to create value." This commitment to long-term success is also seen in another quote from Zuck, "The companies that succeed and have the best impact and are able to outcompete everyone else are the ones that have the longest time horizon." The ability to put the long-term above immediate gratification of oneself or the market is an important attribute that deserves more than Walter gives the topic.
The Purpose chapter tells how Zuck passed on opportunities to become fabulously wealthy at an even younger age. He turned down a $1 billion offer because "for him, the journey wasn't complete yet; he knew he could take Facebook much further by not selling it, by staying the course and sticking to his purpose. He knew there was much more opportunity ahead to make an impact, to change the world."
As I read this chapter, I found myself wondering, just a little, if Zuckerberg was incrementally losing his Purpose. Walter notes how the Facebook leader decreed that "advertising should be useful for the user no matter what--it was wrong to make money off of advertising if it wasn't adding value." It is hard to square that statement with recent advertising "innovations" such as Page Post Ads that are served to people with no connection to the advertiser or charging people to send messages to others who are not friends. These ad features do not add value to the user experience, which reinforces the constant struggle between Purpose and Profit. (Yet another missing "P!")
The People chapter was another that struck me as mislabeled. It's a great chapter full of terrific ideas, but "Think Like Zuck" seems to be saying that what is vital is not people but leaders who create and commit to culture. Walter gives a nod to this when she quotes from the book "Good to Great," noting that "The old adage `People are your most important asset' turns out to be wrong. People are not your most important asset. The right people are." In addition, she ends this section of the book by noting "I cannot wrap up this chapter without talking about leadership." Maybe she didn't want to ruin the alliteration, but I thought Walter made a much stronger case for how Culture was important rather than that People are.
The Product chapter felt the weakest to me. In part, that is because Walter ends up relying so heavily on the Passion/Perseverance attribute from earlier in the book. She notes, for example, that "Zuck understands that to be successful, one needs to run a marathon, not a sprint." She quotes Thomas Edison, who said, "I failed my way to success." And she shares that James Dyson wasn't successful in developing his bagless vacuum cleaner until his 5,127th attempt.
If was a bit disappointed in the Product chapter, I was thrilled with Walter's exploration of the value of Partnerships. This is not a chapter on the importance of crowdsourcing or development partners; instead, "Think Like Zuck" explores how great companies are often led by two types of leaders who bring different skillsets: The Visionary and The Builder. The case is made quite convincingly as Walter examines leader partners such as Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg, Walt Disney and Roy Disney, Bill Hewlett and David Packard and others.
I may quibble with whether Walter selected the appropriate chapter labels or too quickly moved away from one or another important topic, but it should be clear from this review that "Think Like Zuck" got me thinking. The book is engaging, full of interesting stories and is an inspiring read. I hope you will consider purchasing a copy and considering how you can bring more Zuck-like thinking to your corner of the world.
Ironically (or not), the most inspirational words in this book do not come from Zuckerberg, Edison or Hseih; they come, instead, from Ekaterina's father: "Don't try to change the world. Find your purpose, live out your potential to the fullest, serve others kindly, and the world will change around you." His daughter learned well.