What Can We Learn From Zuck?

Published: May 12, 2017
Modified: May 20, 2020

By Mike Hoefflinger,

Watching Mark Zuckerberg, you’re left wondering—as you would be with all Time magazine Persons of the Year—how you could possibly emulate him. It would be nearly impossible to learn to do what Zuckerberg does: vision and intuition are hard to coach.

We can, however, learn from how he does it. Zuckerberg is out to create change, not to prove himself right or others wrong. To do this—to really do this—you have to not only see a great destination, you have to fearlessly and imperviously keep walking toward it. You will look naive and even arrogant to outside observers, and you may be branded delusional for appearing not to react to their signals. If you are able to shake off these judgments you may be ready for the hard part, and the key to finding your inner Zuck: doing is better than dogma.

Although Zuckerberg is as passionate about his mission as anyone, he is not a preacher but a doer. Both inside Facebook and publicly, he prefers to show rather than tell. Since ZuckNet, with the original development of thefacebook.com, and ever since, he has done the work while others have watched or waited or done both.

To show Facebook employees what the “What would you do if you weren’t afraid?” posters around campus mean to him, he took billions of dollars of risk to expand connectivity around the world, acquired Instagram and WhatsApp to protect Facebook’s future after spending years building personal relationships with their CEOs, and occasionally failed publicly with products for which he had strongly advocated (here’s looking at you, Facebook Home).

Although he is the recognized leader of technology’s younger generation, he continues to seek out the leaders that came before him, meeting with Andy Grove about the will to execute, with Jeff Bezos about keeping your eyes on the long term, and with Bill Gates about effective philanthropy with tens of billions of dollars. Even though he structurally controls Facebook’s board of directors, he still recruited challenging and highly opinionated thought leaders like entrepreneur and venture capitalist Marc Andreessen; PayPal mafia kingpin Peter Thiel; Netflix CEO Reed Hastings; and Don Graham, the former owner of The Washington Post.

Just when we thought Steve Jobs’ famous reality distortion field would be the standard by which all future change-makers would be measured, Zuckerberg offers us an approach that may look slightly awkward to the average observer but gives up nothing to Jobs in its effectiveness. Zuckerberg’s doing does more for getting what he holds dear to jump from him to others at Facebook than any keynote. His Facebook is less a “cult of personality” than it is a “cult of mission” where employees, partners, and users can see Zuckerberg’s example and feel not only part of a community but like they can make contributions that may change the world.

Excerpted, with permission of the publisher, from Becoming Facebook: The 10 Challenges That Defined the Company That’s Disrupting the World by Mike Hoefflinger. Copyright 2017, Mike Hoefflinger. Published by AMACOM. Image: Ivan Garcia / Shutterstock.com

About The Author

Mike Hoefflinger is the author of Becoming Facebook: The 10 Challenges That Defined the Company That’s Disrupting the World. Hoefflinger is an executive-in-residence at XSeed Capital. He has operated in Silicon Valley for 25 years as a builder, marketer, speaker, and advisor. He currently advises XSeed portfolio companies on overall B2C and B2B2C strategy, go-to-market approaches, and consumer insights. Over the course of six years, he shaped Facebook’s global marketing teams in support of its $12 billion-plus advertising business, including positioning, branding, marketing communications, design, events, vertical marketing, partner marketing, and consumer insights. Prior to Facebook, he served at Intel, where he headed the Intel Inside co-operative marketing program worldwide and also held roles as Andy Grove’s technical assistant, consumer marketer, and engineer on the original Pentium processor.