iOS app Android app More

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors
Allessandra Bradley-Burns

GET UPDATES FROM Allessandra Bradley-Burns
 

When Will You Grow Up Facebook?

Posted: 05/22/2012 11:07 pm

The time has come to countermand "move fast and break things."

Facebook's founders have the attention of half a billion people. Will they prove that they are ready to move into the role of wise leader: operating with integrity; vision; and the sophisticated capacity to integrate market dominance, innovation front-runner status; AND human change dynamics? OR will they succumb to the traditional business leadership paradigm and focus solely on financial outcomes?

This is a time that is ripe for congratulations. Facebook's accomplishments in innovation are worthy of praise. With more than one half of a billion followers and a million Facebook interactions per minute, they have created a scope of influence that could not have been imagined a mere few years ago. Facebook has created a movement with massive penetration that has exceeded every expectation.

In his recent autobiography, a revolutionary world leader, whose philosophy is synchronous to the disruptive thinking of Mark Zuckerberg, reflects that his focus on nation building required him to ignore the more subtle impacts of his leadership, on the human condition. There is no doubt to those watching the growth of Facebook, that a nation building of sorts has been in effect. Now is the time to decide what to do with this new nation. What will Facebook stand for? What citizens will come unto them and who will choose to leave? How will Facebook be required to evolve their thinking beyond creation to impact? What will they recognize as their responsibility? What are they willing to risk and/or sacrifice in order to stand for what they believe? More importantly, what does Facebook believe in?

Winston Churchill travels through the ages to remind us that "it is not enough to do our best; sometimes we have to do what is required." As I watch the coverage of Facebook's highly anticipated IPO, what stands out in stark contrast to the excitement and possibility, is the news that Facebook Co-founder Eduardo Saverin has decided to give up his U.S. citizenship in order to avoid paying taxes on his new billionaire status. As an innovation strategist, I strongly believe in questioning business as usual, but I find it reprehensible to use the freedom and ecumenical access to wealth-building tools, as well as the brain trust of the United States to make a personal fortune, and then abscond from all personal responsibility to act ethically and contribute expected remuneration for the acquisition of wealth. There are other examples of Facebook escaping from its corporate responsibility: imbalanced Terms of Service, documented history of unethical behavior, and its corporate war on privacy. There is definitely room for principled and ethical leadership, typically synchronous with charismatic leaders of movements.

This is the Facebook movement. Show us how it will be different.

Mark Zuckerberg announced on Friday morning, that the company is about "making the world more open and connected." Farhad Manjoo calls Facebook "the most expansive enabler of human communication." Yet enabling new forms of communication without participating in a leadership role in ethical conversations about human interaction, is playing small in a world where Facebook would like to believe that they are playing big. At this juncture, leadership requires moving beyond the child's play of innovation and market dominance as sole drivers. A truly grown up Facebook will choose to participate as a principled leader with vision and values that pushes well beyond how far can they go. It includes milestones that reflect social change and disruptive contributions to community.

Facebook is a welcomed visionary in reinventing our daily lives, but will only possess the integrity, wisdom and intellectual curiosity of an astute leader if this reinvention occurs with purpose, intention and understanding. If we continue to accept the position that Facebook wants to "enhance" our lives, isn't it time that they believe enough in themselves to enlighten and enrich our lives, as well? Does Facebook think about how new systems of communication could erode more traditional concepts of human connectivity? I am not questioning whether such technological advance should occur. I am questioning the extent to which conversations have taken place about how to protect what is currently working, sacred, and essential to fulfilled, centered human lives.

Facebook Founders, be incredibly proud of your coup in the tech arena. You have proven that you are good at what you are good at. In execution, your prowess is evident. Now, how will you step up with the thoughtful intention of the seasoned leader, possessed with the deep intellectual curiosity to choose to bring attention to what you are not paying attention to?

Facebook, dedicate resources and identify and engage key personnel to lead internal and then collaborative conversations about communication, community, friendship, and human connection. Use the massive infusion of capital from the IPO to disrupt your own model. Decide on the percentage of profit that Facebook will dedicate to innovation, and leading world-changing conversations about the impact of how technology has altered human connection, human community and some would suggest, the human mind. Build an ecosystem that enables seamless interaction with all things digital, but in a way that requires and models the sophisticated interplay between the basic requirements for improving humanity, and the scientist desire to create what is possible.

In a recent letter to his investors, Zuckerberg listed the following five core Facebook values: focus on impact; move fast; be bold; be open, and build social value. I cannot help but feel as if the simplicity of these values reflects the simplicity of thought AND the simplicity of process required to generate them. How can a focus on impact happen without the necessary challenging conversations to explore? Moving fast: do not slow down because of fear. Be brave in making a sophisticated statement about pace that encourages thoughtful consideration and acting with integrity. I fully agree with the desire to be bold. Be bold out of their comfort zone. Take a bright-light look into what they are avoiding and choose courage to bring this into regular conversation. Be open. Admit to what they are not talking about as a company. Number one on my list is how Facebook created an environment that limited face-to-face interaction, and so relieved the "socially awkward" of the need to participate in this very human reality in order to build community. By ignoring this debate, they are choosing to live small. Seek out people who will challenge them to live large in their scariest places. As for building social value, become open to conversations about how to leverage the comfort offered by limited technological connections to increase the engagement in face-to-face human connection. It is time for a more open investigation about the communication challenges for individuals with social and sensory disorders and how this informs the development of current Facebook technologies.

Do not let avarice lead Facebook away from the world-changing opportunity that confronts them at this juncture. I challenge Sheryl Sandberg to be a different type of leader and lead Facebook into its new stage of maturity by slowing down and building things. I challenge Sheryl to leverage her prior tech company experience and help Facebook grow beyond thinking about innovation, profit and ruling the lion's share, but to become a leader in ethical decision making in the technology movement. More specifically, I suggest the following:

1. Lead conversations within Facebook to explore the social, emotional, and cognitive impact of current and future technologies. Remain agnostic about the outcomes. Follow Socrates' lead in believing that the conversations themselves will create changed perspectives.

2. Solidify within the very constitution of Facebook that for every new technology considered, a conversation on impact will be part of the lifeblood of the innovation process. Align this with a clear vision of ethics for Facebook.

3. Create and share a vision of ethics for the Facebook creative process. Now that the company has proven its mastery in innovation, be the leader who matures this vision into the next reality of creation. Expand Zuckerberg's ability to communicate to the public about what Facebook believes in.

4. Admit that there are things that you and/or the company are not good at, and then pay attention to these things. Stop outsourcing or exporting conversations about human connection, community and impact. Create a team that makes you and other Facebook leaders engage in uncomfortable communications. Admit that it is time for personal growth within the leadership in order to bring Facebook to the next stages of company growth and success. Be willing to live in the discomfort of the unknown.

5. As you sit down to discuss next steps with marketing execs and other Facebook leadership, consider why people, and companies like GM, are turning away from Facebook. As you assess the less than expected IPO bang on the market, why are people less poised to invest? Einstein warns us "that we cannot solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them." Who will be Facebook's these new thinkers?

The current lineup of books about Facebook reads as multiple variations on the following: mobile mastery; privacy; new business models; relationships with big business; the blurring of carved out spaces between tech giants and platforms evolving into ecosystems. In this deluge of praise, I urge Facebook to identify sage and unexpected truth tellers and that they will listen to their discomforting advice.

Clearly Facebook must pay attention to fellow tech giants as it increasingly collides in the race for customers on the mobile front and beyond. Facebook burst onto the technology scene by meeting a social need, but will they be able to meet the more adult challenge of satisfying our human connection requirements? What is Facebook doing to address the most human need for "sugar" neighbors? Truth be told, 99.9 percent of Facebook "friends" are not available to sweeten the cup of tea held in one's hand.

I want to engage Facebook in a conversation about how they will grasp this opportunity to become erudite as a leader? How will they learn about, and then show us that they are more than a technological and economic driver? Will they choose to grow into their role as tribal leader and seek to deserve the title of tribal elder?

In the 7 minutes it has taken to read this, approximately 7 million people have interacted with Facebook. What will Facebook choose to do to with this lost opportunity to engage us beyond our desire to " connect" with others?

If Facebook is truly committed to being bold and open, then pay attention beyond the accolades and financial noise. I write as someone committed to leveraging technology to enhance the human experience and yet, I hold Facebook to even higher expectations. As we say to our six children, "better is not necessarily good" and I am challenging the leadership at Facebook to take the necessary steps to mature into the grace, wisdom and true power of full leadership. As Facebook looks to answer the question "how can Facebook continue to be an innovator in human connection, and know so little about human connection?" Call me. I trust you know how to locate my number.

 
FOLLOW TECH