So how do successful businesses deal with the trials and tribulations of constant innovation and what can we learn from their leaders? In my book "Think Like Zuck: The Five Business Secrets of Facebook's Improbably Brilliant CEO Mark Zuckerberg" I talk about the successes and failures of multiple businesses while drawing on what made them prosperous. Below are just some of the insights from the book that draw from the lessons of Facebook itself and its leader, Mark Zuckerberg.
Knowing when to say no or when to let go is a strategic quality critical for any business.
Knowing when to let go or when to say no is an important part of strategic leadership. In order to focus, a company cannot take on more than necessary to execute its vision and strategy. Mark Zuckerberg learned this lesson early on. When Facebook was in its infancy, Zuckerberg started working on developing new software he called Wirehog. Mark envisioned Wirehog as a service that would allow users to share content (music, video, text files) with each other. The service would be integrated into Facebook, making it the company's first application. Mark was passionate about Wirehog. Sean Parker was opposed to developing the service.
He had experience dealing with the music industry in his Napster days, and he was wary of the possibility that Facebook might be accused of stealing content. Mark didn't seem to hear the pleas of his friend to drop Wirehog and focus on Facebook. Wirehog launched as an invite only site in November 2004. The service recognized who your Facebook friends were and allowed you to share your files within your circle of connections. But Wirehog wasn't taking off as Zuckerberg predicted. The service was hard to use, and users weren't warming up to it. In the meantime, Facebook needed Mark's attention more than ever, with his coworkers working hard on supporting the growing service. Eventually, Mark made the hard decision to shut down Wirehog.
Knowing your weaknesses and being willing to improve makes you a strong leader.
Back in 2005, when Zuckerberg was approached with multiple buyout offers, the situation inside the company became tense. Rumors about selling ran rampant, Facebook's internal politics were getting heavy, and communications seemed to be breaking down. Mark didn't seem to notice and didn't bother to explain his thinking and his plans.
A recruiter for the company, Robin Reed, remembers the dire situation they were in. One night she caught up with Zuck and asked to chat. She told him about her frustration and that the team was ready to mutiny. "You'd better take CEO lessons," she advised. "Or this isn't going to work out for you!" Over the next several weeks, she noticed a real change in Mark.
He agreed to start seeing an executive coach. He called for weekly "all-hands" meetings where he shared his thoughts and his vision with all of the employees. He started having more meetings with his executive team. The twenty-two-year-old founder showed admirable candor when he admitted to his team: "It may not make you comfortable to hear me saying this, but I'm sort of learning on the job here." He readily owns up to his errors, saying publicly: "Almost any mistake you can make in running a company, I've probably made." But he also works hard on correcting them and learning from them. His candor-with himself and with others-shows his character and is consistent with his belief in integrity and transparency.
In conclusion: Henry Ford is credited with saying: "Whether you think you can, or you think you can't, you are right." I love this quote, because it shows that amazing and unlimited potential of human race. The reality is: there is no such thing as failure if you really want to pursue your dream. And false starts are simply invaluable learning experiences toward the next iteration of an idea or development of a product.
Originally published in Bookish