LEADERSHIP LESSONS FROM MARK ZUCKERBERG—PART TWO

In late 2016 Fortune announced the conferring of “Businessperson of the Year” title upon Founder and CEO of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg. Related to that, Adam Lashinsky wrote a fascinating article on what we can learn from Zuckerberg’s leadership and management style. A few key ideas jumped out to me. Here is one of them from the article (“How to Lead Like Zuck” Fortune. December 1, 2016, pp. 66–72):

Ideas typically do not just come to you. They happen because you’ve been talking about something or thinking about something and talking to a lot of people about it for a long period of time.” (p. 70)

Haven’t we all had the embarrassing experience of thinking we have a brilliant idea . . . until the moment we begin to verbalize it? Upon verbalizing it, we suddenly realize how stupid it is. Well, that process works positively just as much as it works negatively. The more you can talk about your idea, the more you can crystallize your thinking and design. That is why we need to keep talking!

Do we all occasionally have those stroke-of-genius moments when our best ideas come to us alone? Of course we do. However, by and large, my best ideas have come to me when I have had the chance to collaborate, consult, and dialog with other people. Therefore, in a sense, my best ideas truly are not my ideas as much as they are our ideas. That is what Zuckerberg is saying.

The more you have the opportunity to kick your ideas around with other people, the better. It gives you the chance to hear yourself think and it opens the door to instant diverse viewpoints, many of which you never would have arrived at on your own.

Are you developing a brilliant idea? Just keep talking!

LEADERSHIP LESSONS FROM MARK ZUCKERBERG—PART ONE

In late 2016 Fortune announced the conferring of “Businessperson of the Year” title upon Founder and CEO of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg. Related to that, Adam Lashinsky wrote a fascinating article on what we can learn from Zuckerberg’s leadership and management style. A few key ideas jumped out to me. Here is one of them from the article (“How to Lead Like Zuck” Fortune. December 1, 2016, pp. 66–72):

[Venture capitalist Mike] Vernal believes the key to Zuckerberg’s success is his ability to think for the ages while knowing when to go deep. ‘One of the things that defines Mark is that he takes a very, very long view of things, almost a geological view,’ says Vernal. ‘Most people think day to day or week to week. Mark thinks century to century.’ (Indeed, Zuckerberg’s favorite video game is Civilization, which allows players to consider the vast sweep of history while plotting their next move.)” (p. 70)

Although I understand what Vernal is expressing, it remains potentially an impossibly overwhelming phenomenon. How does one “think for the ages”? How does one think “century to century”? Who among us can even venture to go there?

On the other hand, whenever we automatically make decisions based on bedrock ethical principles, are we not then thinking “for the ages”? I think we are. But that kind of thinking is different than what Vernal cites. Vernal is focusing more on Zuckerberg’s thinking as it specifically relates to a strategy of technology and its confluence with humanity. Vernal is focusing in on what those outcomes are. And it is Zuckerberg’s thoughts about those outcomes that lead to Zuckerberg’s unique success.

So how might this apply to you and me? Can we ever replicate that process? Probably in too many ways to list. Nonetheless, here are a couple applications to consider:

  • Big-Picture Thinking. We talk all the time about understanding the big picture. But how often do we really aim to understand it? And since most of us are not Zuckerbergs, we more than likely discount our own abilities to contribute to that big picture. And that is our mistake because we all have the capacity for big-picture thinking if we force ourselves into it. Big-picture thinking is essential to humanity’s success. You don’t have to be a Zuckerberg to think for the ages. How you make decisions today, how you relate to the people you influence, how you prioritize your time, all affect the big picture.
  • Legacies Serving The Future. Some day we will all leave something behind. That is called a legacy. We have the exciting privilege of deciding what our legacy will be. We have the moral mandate to build tomorrow’s legacy today. Ultimately, we hope that our legacy will serve humanity. That is the goal. We too can ponder the confluence of technology and humanity. In so doing, we will find multiple opportunities to build tomorrow’s legacies today. That is an investment with a guaranteed return.

And so, it is a given to think day to day and week to week. Indeed it is necessary. Nevertheless, let us never forget how important it is to think century to century. The short view is important and will happen by default. However, we (like Zuckerberg) must never neglect the long view. For that is where the unique successes are found.

DON’T CALL ME FOR BOOK RATES

Every once in a while when someone learns that one of the hats I wear is that of a freelance corporate writer, that person becomes intrigued and asks me to help write a book about a fantastic true story. This doesn’t mean that the person’s story is boring, uninspiring, or not helpful. It might be a great story. However, it simply demonstrates a common misunderstanding about the publishing world. That misunderstanding is that publishing a book is an easy, fun, inexpensive process that is guaranteed to succeed if you simply have a good writer.

The reality is that the world of book publishing is much larger and complex than most folks can imagine. Book publishing is many things but one thing it is not is a quick easy path to riches and success. If indeed you have a book in you, then write it! Just don’t expect that book to be your meal ticket.

First and foremost, you need to determine whether a book is an effective tactic in a much larger strategy, and if so, then you need to coordinate many additional tactics throughout that strategy to make it all work. Some folks end up doing this very successfully and others fail miserably. It is best to know which crowd you are in before you begin.

Anna Sproul-Latimer is a literary agent with the Ross Yoon Agency. I like the way she summarizes these realities (Kara Gebhart Uhl, “Meet the Agent” Writer’s Digest. March/April 2017, p. 17):

Don’t think a book is going to give you a platform. You’re going to have to bring your platform to a book.

Now that’s good advice for any aspiring writer!

NOT ALL WISHES COME TRUE

A regular pastime of mine is making fun of artificial intelligence. AI can be a wonderful thing in as far as it goes, in as much as it can do, and in as much as we allow it to do. AI is powerful because–under the right circumstances–it can (apparently) replicate human thought quickly and easily. Simultaneously, AI has intrinsic weaknesses due to its obvious lack of human qualities such as empathy, consciousness, judgment, free will, and holistic thinking.

Alan Turing is considered to be the father of modern computer science. Although he died in 1954 his “Turing test” continues to fuel the constant quest of computer scientists in their goal of creating a computer so powerful that you or I would find it indistinguishable from a human being. The Turing test is said to be passed if in our texting to and from that computer, we would be convinced that we were communicating with another person instead of just a machine. Hence, the constant quest to write code that will pass the Turing test.

Lately some within the computing community have proposed that the Turing test has outlived its usefulness. This position derives from the growing idea that the Turing test itself is based more on deception than true intelligence or thought. Gary Marcus is the director of Uber AI Labs and a professor of psychology and neural science at New York University. He recently wrote about his team’s endeavors into this fascinating argument.

Two points from Marcus’ team especially capture my attention. One involves the debunking of the very idea that just one test (the Turing test) is genuinely capable of assessing AI (Marcus, Gary. “Am I Human?” Scientific American. March 2017, pp. 58–63):

Initially we focused on finding a single test that could replace Turing’s. But we quickly turned to the idea of multiple tests because just as there is no single test of athletic prowess, there cannot be one ultimate test of intelligence.” (p. 63)

The other point is the intrinsic and pervasive superiority of your brain or mine over any AI system. This of course again underscores the idea that AI may be an impossible goal:

Anyone who has ever tried to program a machine to understand language has quickly realized that virtually every sentence is ambiguous, often in multiple ways. Our brain is so good at comprehending language that we do not usually notice.

Well, back to one of my favorite pastimes. The next time you find yourself wishing that you were smarter than a computer, please stop. The truer “wish” would be that a computer was smarter than you. And as we all know, not all wishes come true.

WHEN DEAD PAPER IS BETTER THAN LIVE SCREENS

David Sax wrote a book called Revenge of Analog: Real Things and Why They Matter. He addresses the occasional human tendency to become fed up with the inherent challenges of living in a digital world that prods us away from analog. It is a subject that I think we must always be assessing because it constantly affects everyone.

Steve Wieberg in his review of the book does an excellent job summarizing Sax’s fundamental concern (“Analog Strikes Back: In a Digital World, We Cling to Vinyl and Paper, Author Says” The Kansas City Star, 12/18/16, pp. 1D, 8D.):

People, he says, are craving real, tangible things and experiences and not always something stored in a cloud. Many prefer turning the pages of a book to reading on a backlit screen, or shopping in stores over purchases with a click. They want to hold objects in their hands. They want human interaction. Sometimes, they just need an escape from screens and keyboards.”  (p. 8D)

I agree with Sax’s fundamental concern. Simultaneously I love what I can do with technology and I love what technology can do for me. I would not want to be without it. The key to this dichotomy is balance.

It is only when we simultaneously maintain our appreciation of analog and our appreciation of technology that we are then prepared to filter selectively in the moment. How that works for you might be very different from how that works for me.

In a world that increasingly is technology, we need to keep surfing the wave, but we also need to remember how to get back to the beach.