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Wednesday, October 31, 2012
How To Run Your Company More Like Facebook
By: Bram Schumer
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has big dreams, and even bigger expectations to meet. The social media company’s public offering earlier this year was given nearly as much coverage and excitement as the London Olympics, only to disappoint investors when its share price plummeted over the summer. But however cheap it is to buy Facebook stock these days, it’s official: the new guard of American industry lies at the fingertips of those in Silicon Valley.
People flock to California today not for gold, per se, but for the opportunity to be the next big thing. The next big gadget, next big app, next big way to take picture of food and write a caption of “nom nom” beneath it. It’s no wonder that businesses of all stripes are turning their attention west for ideas on how to make their own companies hum with the same ingenuity, excitement, and irreverence for the rules. Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO who wears a hoodie and flip flops even to the New York Stock Exchange, and built Facebook into one of the most powerful and popular digital tools of all time, knows a thing or two about capturing and nurturing the energy of a startup, and turning an ambitious idea into a profitable venture. When Mark speaks, the world should listen.
Last month, the 28-year-old sat down with Michael Arrington for an interview at Tech Crunch’s “Disrupt SF 2012” conference. It was Zuckerberg’s first public appearance since Facebook’s IPO, and there were many questions to be answered.
But rather than buckle under the pressure of the worlds of both technology and finance, the fast-talking executive put his business acumen on full display, showing fan boys and worried investors alike that he’s the right man to lead Facebook through its recent troubled times and towards a brighter, more connected future.
Zuckerberg has something to teach us. Sure, he’s wildly successful, one of the youngest billionaires in the world, and can even speak Chinese. But beyond all of that, he proves that he understands Facebook’s mission, and makes every decision with that mission in mind. “We don’t build services to make money,” he said, “we make money to build services...we are a mission-driven company.”
What can your company learn from the lessons of Facebook? Quite a lot: everything from focusing your mission, to dealing with the ups and downs of the press, to being able to admit and grow from mistakes.
Let’s jump in.
#1: Know your mission, and make decisions based on it.
Too often, companies start out with the intention of doing X, only to end up doing Y as the pressures of marketers, committees, and shareholders build up. Even Apple, which many consider to be one of the most focused companies in the world, struggled throughout the 1990’s under poor leadership, bloated product lines that confused consumers, and too many decisions that were made to save a buck here and there. Their mission, to make the best consumer electronics in the world, had been lost. And it wasn’t until the return of Steve Jobs in 1996 that focus returned and products were terminated to make room for today’s elegant devices that we can’t live without.
Facebook’s mission, in Zuckerberg’s words, is “to make the world more open and connected.” How do they do it? By making the sharing of information, everything from a picture to a status update to a friend request, intuitive and fast. “We exist and we wake up in the morning and the thing that gets us excited is making the world more open and connected and the things that we’re doing to build that.”
To do this, Facebook had to build an effective team who all believed in that mission as their top priority. When everyone in your organization understands and embraces your mission, decisions are made for the right reasons, not superficial ones.
#2: Stay focused in spite of the media’s turbulence.
As Facebook’s stock price sunk over the summer, investors became worried. Articles were published; accusations flew. It seemed like Facebook, this enterprise which everyone thought was the greatest thing ever to happen on the Internet, wasn’t so good after all. The effect of all this media scrutiny wasn’t exactly good for internal morale. “It doesn’t help,” chuckled Zuckerberg.
But despite the media circus, Zuckerberg kept his employees focused by reminding them that the media exaggerates everything, the good and the bad. “Facebook has not been an uncontroversial company in the past,” he said. When Facebook seemed on top of the world, the press was saying things that were too good to be true. And when they’re saying things that are bad, he reminded his team not to lose hope because they’re never as bad or as evil as journalists make them out to be. Using the media to your advantage is important, but allowing the cyclical highs and lows of the public’s perception to distract you from your goals is never the way to build confidence or inspire others.
#3: Admit your mistakes. And grow from them.
Anyone who used, or still uses, the old version of Facebook for mobile knows how terrible it was. Images would take a ridiculous amount of time to load. Pages crashed. Posts would get lost. Eventually, people forsook the app in favor of the mobile website: a more cumbersome process which wasn’t what Facebook had in mind. Back then, the technology behind the app was called HTML5. Every time you clicked on something in the app, the webpage had to load and render, which took tons of time and gobbled up precious carrier data quotas. At the time, Facebook believed HTML5 was the future of mobile apps. Big mistake.
“I think the biggest mistake we made as a company is betting too much on HTML5,” said Zuckerberg. When you and the people at your company are self-critical, and accurately and fairly assess your own performance, you can quickly adapt to changing circumstances and avoid getting stuck in a rut. After about a year of trying and failing to make HTML5 work, Facebook switched their app to a “native” format, which basically means more processing happens on your phone rather than the Internet, making it more stable and, crucially, faster. Facebook’s odyssey of HTML5 to native taught us that there’s no shame in admitting mistakes. If you learn from them, your customers and stakeholders will thank you in the end.
#4: Build effective partnerships. You can’t do everything alone.
Earlier this year, Facebook made headlines when it bought the photo sharing app Instagram for $1 billion. Instagram, which allowed anyone with a cellphone to shoot photos, add cool effects, and upload them to their Facebook feed, had become exceedingly popular, and Zuckerberg was taking an interest. He began meeting with Kevin Systrom, Instagram’s founder, to discuss their goals and ambitions for their respective companies. Zuckerberg likes to support entrepreneurs and innovation, and build meaningful relationships with the third parties that make Facebook more useful to people. After discussing their plains and goals for a while, the two men realized, “hey, maybe we should just join and become one company.”
While doing a merger with your partners isn’t always the best choice, what Zuckerberg shows us is that it’s important to think about your customers, their lives and preferences, and what other products and services they might be using. Then, consider forming partnerships with other companies that serve these same customers. It will add value to both of you.
#5: What you say “no” to is as important as what you say “yes” to
During Zuckerberg’s interview, Michael Arrington pressed him on a rumor that has been swirling around the tech world for months: is Facebook secretly working on a mobile phone that could disrupt the success of Apple and Google? Such a rumor is juicy indeed, and to the average consumer, a Facebook phone is enough to stop yourself from running out to the nearest Apple Store for an iPhone 5, lest Facebook manage to one-up it just months later. Zuckerberg, however, was adamant. “Building a phone is so clearly the wrong strategy for us.”
With 950 million users, and an obvious cultural cache, Facebook could certainly come out with some sort of product, and probably convince a few million people to buy it. But what would that do? Is Facebook really a mobile device company? “Let’s say we build a phone,” said Zuckerberg, “maybe we could get 10 million people to use it. 20 million. It doesn’t move the needle for us...we want to build a system which is as deeply as possible integrated into every other major device.”
While companies often keep major plans secret, and no one knows Facebook’s future for sure, based on Zuckerberg’s insistence, it seems safe to say that for now, there is no “Facephone” on the horizon, and for good reason. Facebook has a lot on its plate right now: rebuilding shareholder confidence notwithstanding. To devote millions of dollars and countless hours and resources to a product that Facebook was never intended to create would divert its attention from the products and services that make it great. Too often, companies get excited by “sexy” opportunities that they would like to see happen. Apple used to make clothes. Coke tried “New Coke.” Blackberry came out with a clunker of a tablet. What these ventures all had in common was that they didn’t fit into the company’s mission. They were distractions.
Discipline can sometimes feel limiting, like you’re preventing yourself from reaching your full potential by saying “no” to too many things. Example after example, however, shows just the opposite. Companies that are truly focused on doing a small number of things exceptionally well, rather than myriad things mediocre, are able to easily pivot, respond to outside forces, and usher in innovation, because the cobwebs of stagnation and tradition never got a chance to form in the first place. Just because building a Facebook phone sounds like a cool idea, for now Zuckerberg is making the correct decision to shelve it for now, and focus on what’s truly important: making it fast and easy for a billion people to share and like pictures of cats.
Tuesday, July 24, 2012
Microsoft’s New Tool Helps Nonprofits & Corporations Tell Stories of Social Impact
Microsoft’s new mapping tool is helping nonprofits and corporations utilize technology to effectively communicate stories of their impact on society. The Microsoft Local Impact Map is a customized map showcasing an organization’s work in local communities around the world. This new tool is unique as it incorporates text, pictures, videos and social media tools. It enables stories to be easily shared and promoted. Marnie Webb, co-CEO of Microsoft nonprofit partner TechSoup, states, “Before implementing the Local Impact Map, we had case studies in different formats, such as PDF files, Word documents and PowerPoint presentations, scattered all across the organization. It made me nuts. The Local Impact Map gave us the ability to put all these case studies into one place.” Corporations are able to use the tool as well. UnitedHealthcare has been using the map internally for their 80,000 employees to contribute stories of their volunteer work. The tool is intended to transform the way nonprofits and corporations use technology to promote their social impact within local and international communities.
To read more about how Microsoft is helping organizations communicate their stories, you can click here or here.
Wednesday, July 18, 2012
How To Get Senior Leaders to Transform
By: Gene Zlotnikov
Senior business leaders are hard-working, intelligent and believe they are doing the right thing at work. However, people may have a superfluous optimism about their own behavior and might think they are better than they are – a psychological phenomenon known as “self-serving bias.” If senior leaders are to embrace the fact that they must change some form of their behavior, a good strategy for change is a concrete 360-degree feedback technique, which measures the desired changes that will drive business performance. A strong example of this includes Amgen CEO Kevin Sharer’s approach of asking his top 75 staff what he could do differently and sharing his development needs publicly with his team. This circle of feedback can not only transform leaders, but could also create sustainable growth for the organization.
To learn about how to break “self-serving biases,” you can read the Harvard Business Review story here.
Tuesday, April 3, 2012
“Human Hotspots” Create a Stir
In mid-March, South by Southwest (SXSW) Interactive hosted its five day conference on emerging technology. The event convenes top thought leaders in the industry to touch on “creative solutions for a better tomorrow.” Yet, the “solution” that grabbed all of the headlines didn’t spring from a keynote speech, a panel presentation or an interactive workshop. The big story this year came from the homeless individuals strolling throughout the event, selling Wi-Fi access. The backlash to news of these “human hotspots” was quick and widespread.
Critics denounced the program as dehumanizing, even though some still thought the effort was well-intentioned. Though the program sprouted from BBH, an advertising agency, we can still examine the underlying mission for the program. Let’s posit a simple mission: To help the homeless community earn a short-term income in a manner that respects their dignity.
If this is their aim, did the homeless hotspots go off mission? When we think of “human hotspots,” our gut reaction is likely disapproval. The idea of privileged, tech-savvy men and women using homeless people so that they can have fast, wireless coverage on their smart phones leaves a distasteful impression. Yet, moving beyond the fact that the program sounds like it is practically begging for criticism, was it really a blunder?
Considering the lack of opportunities for the homeless, this gave them an option to make above minimum-wage for a few days of work. Should the” human hotspots” have been high school students looking for a quick buck, there would have been no story here. Homeless people, who the general population often pretends not to see, were interacting with the festival’s attendees. Additionally, the program had the unintended effect of sparking a national dialogue on the homeless.
What do you think? Was the program a success or a failure?
Read the response from BBH, a strong criticism from Wired’s Tim Carmody or a defense from Good Business.
Tuesday, March 27, 2012
Three Simple Steps to Staying on Mission
True leadership requires the willingness to recognize the need for change, as well as the ability to lead and manage change. Companies that consistently choose to pursue change are typically growing, dynamic organizations that stick to their mission. On the other hand, companies that fear change are likely to find it more challenging to remain relevant and continue to meet their customers’ needs. Forbes contributor Mike Myatt, describes three easy steps to help leaders and organizations stay on mission by leading change:
• Identify the Need for Change
If your organization is not willing to innovate to meet society’s changing demands, it is more likely to struggle and fail. To stay relevant and successful, companies should focus on changes that will help them more effectively serve their customers (and potential customers) and shift their corporate culture to foster an efficient and positive workforce.
• Lead Change
When faced with change, people typically respond by taking on one of four roles, becoming the Victim, the Neutral Bystander, the Critic or the Advocate. To successfully lead change, these four roles must be communicated to using appropriate messaging and properly involved in the process.
• Manage Change
Successful change leaders will ensure that their company is aligned with the same mission and vision for change, provide their employees with responsibility and accountability for innovation and maintain authority over change to ensure things happen.
To learn more about how to stick to mission and lead change in your organization, read the original article in Forbes.
For more information about how you can take your leadership to the next level, check out this upcoming event on Transformational Leadership, April 27th and 28th, 2012 in Chicago: Transformational Leadership Awards Dinner & Symposium
Tuesday, March 20, 2012
Panera: The Nonprofit
Imagine a restaurant where food prices are only a mere suggestion. The man in front of you pays an extra dollar for his smokehouse turkey panini. You round up to the nearest dollar for your Asian sesame chicken salad. The woman behind you pays what she can, a dollar and some loose change for her broccoli cheddar soup.
Is this a utopian ideal of a concept, unrealistic and bound to fail? No. It is Panera Cares, a community café launched in St. Louis in May 2010. The concept is simple: customers pay what they can, offering more than the suggested price if they’d like or enjoying a free meal if finances are tight. Cashiers don’t take any money, they only make change. The customers themselves deposit their donation into a locked glass box.
Ron Shaich, the president of the Panera Bread Foundation, said, "Twenty percent of customers pay more than the suggested donation. Sixty percent leave the suggested donation and 20 percent leave less, typically significantly less."1
The cafés are an inventive approach to feeding the hungry. The idea was based off of the SAME Café, which opened in Denver in 2006, but putting the power of Panera behind it offers grander possibilities of impact and influence.
Since the pilot restaurant, Panera has opened two more locations in Dearborn, MI and Portland, OR. On February 23, 2012, Panera announced they would be finalizing the locations for at least two more of the cafés by spring.2
1 ABC News 2 MSN Money
Tuesday, March 13, 2012
Soccer + Portable Energy = sOccket
Two Harvard graduates, who are only 23 years old, are already the heads of their own business. Not only is their product doing well in the world, but it has also received top praise from a former president.
The two women you may be in awe of are Jessica Matthews and Julia Silverman, the founders of Uncharted Play. Matthews and Silverman created the sOccket, a soccer ball that harnesses the kinetic energy of a game and turns it into post-game electricity. Donated balls have already been distributed in Mexico, El Salvador, Costa Rica, Haiti and Nigeria.
Uncharted Play has one goal: convince the masses to reTHINK FUNction. By combining innovation with a dedication to fun, Matthews and Silverman have created a genius (and simple!) product to provide portable energy to resource-poor communities.
After just 30 minutes of play, the sOccket can power 3 hours of LED light. This allows resource-poor families to save money they would normally spend on kerosene, fumes of which can be fatal. The sOccket can also provide electricity for water purifiers, mini-fridges and emergency cell phone chargers.
Silverman is already looking forward to what lies next on the horizon for Uncharted Play. Silverman explained that Uncharted Play’s mission is “about dreaming and thinking about your community and how you can better it through innovation.”
To read more about how the sOccket is helping families have fun while saving money, read the CNN article about powerful women entrepreneurs here or visit the official website.