You have to give Mark Zuckerberg credit. When he sets his mind to something, he has an uncanny ability to just put his head down and push forward, no matter what is in his way. That seems to be true even when the thing in his way is massive public opinion moving in the opposite direction. Zuckerberg often seems unfazed to the point that he looks out of touch.
As an example, he recently posted an image on Facebook of his avatar in the metaverse. It was bad. It definitely doesn’t look or feel like the type of future internet where any of us would ever want to spend significant time. At best, it’s maybe as good as a still from a 25-year-old video game.
The reaction was brutal. Others wrote if this is Zuckerberg’s vision for the metaverse, we should all be very worried. Which is kind of a fair point if it weren’t for the fact that his vision for the metaverse was already pretty terrifying.
Zuckerberg, however, seems unfazed by this type of criticism. It’s as though he’s playing some sort of long game that no one else sees, and he’s willing to endure the pushback and criticism in service of reaching whatever vision he sees for Meta.
To be fair, he did respond on Friday, explaining that the image he shared is a “pretty basic” version, and that Meta intends to continue improving graphics over time.
It’s sort of worked so far. I mean, Facebook is the world’s largest social media platform and second-largest advertising platform. Even after losing what it says is $10 billion due to Apple’s changes in how developers can track users, Meta basically prints money.
On the other hand–Meta’s stock price has fallen by 50 percent since a year ago. That’s a problem if you’re hoping they keep their money invested while the company spends the next 10 years building what it believes is the next version of the internet. If the stock is any indication, investors aren’t sure. Again, Zuckerberg doesn’t seem worried.
Of course, because of his ownership of a special class of shares, Zuckerberg can’t be fired. He has the absolute final say over the company he founded in a Harvard dorm room. That gives him a lot of control over what happens, but it also gives him a lot of freedom.
Hear me out. I am firmly on the side of Facebook (or Meta, or whatever) would be better off if its CEO was more accountable. I also think the company will have a hard time getting past its last decade of scandals until someone else is CEO.
But, for Zuckerberg, being out of touch is almost a superpower. It’s the thing that has made him as successful as he is, and I think there’s a lesson to be learned.
To be clear, I think Mark Zuckerberg very much cares what you think about Facebook and Instagram. Or, at least, he cares to the extent that you keep using it. But what Mark Zuckerberg does not care about is what you say about the future he envisions.
Partially, I think that’s because he assumes his platform has reached enough scale that it can simply muscle its way into the metaverse whether the rest of the industry is on board or not. He might be right.
On the other hand, I think there’s a case to be made that if you’re trying to build something completely new, you have to be willing to turn off the noise and press forward. If it’s new, people won’t understand what you’re trying to do–they can’t. They’ve never experienced it before. That means they’ll have all sorts of opinions about it, many of them negative.
The metaverse is actually the perfect example. Aside from other people who have some kind of financial interest in making the metaverse be a thing, almost no one cares. I don’t know if we’ll all be strapping on headsets someday to go to school or work or to the movies. That seems so completely foreign to me that I have a hard time believing that anyone will want to sign up for that version of the future.
That said, someone should probably try. I also think it would be pretty disappointing if 10 years from now we all continue to interact with the world around us in the same ways we do today. Certainly, technology is making it possible for us to do much more.
It’s definitely not there yet, and this is the part where Zuckerberg doesn’t seem to care what anyone thinks. He’s content to put out little pieces to sort of desensitize us along the way, without any care how much he gets dragged online as a result.
I should say that–as with all things–there is a balance. Shutting out dissenting voices causes lots of real-world problems. It’s arguably the reason Facebook is in such a tough spot when it comes to things like user privacy or violent and extremist content. Zuckerberg’s willingness to look out of touch has made him extremely successful, but it obviously comes at a cost.
To that end, I think Zuckerberg and Meta would be better off listening a little more to the people who raise concerns instead of simply dismissing it all as noise. Sometimes your critics are right. Sometimes they have helpful perspective that can prevent you from doing something terrible.
The same thing is true for every leader. Your job is to surround yourself with very smart people who are able to help you discern the right next step for your company. If you do, it won’t stop the noise or the criticism, but it does make it easier to put your head down and keep moving.