Time for a Founder to Step Down?

I read this article about Facebook with interest:  https://www.wired.com/story/i-am-a-data-scientist-and-mom-but-facebook-made-me-choose/

It’s an important issue, but it’s also a microcosm of a larger problem. What happens when creative people cease to be creative?

It happens in all fields, to all kinds of people. It’s not inevitable — I know one 85-year old company owner who remains vibrant. But it’s more common for people who become wealthy through their creativity to lose the hunger to be creative.

We see that in the arts. Think of the singers and song-writers who did incredible work in the 1960s and 70s and who are still alive — Burt Bacharach, Lionel Ritchie, and Ringo Starr readily come to mind. What have they done in the last decade or two? Anything new anyone can remember? I don’t meant to pick on those three guys; there’s a long list of people in the same situation. Wealth diminishes creativity.

The same applies in business. The natural progression of any “start-up” that’s successful is to transition to a traditional business with professional managers. The conventional view is that the entrepreneur is the creative, but the company has to “go corporate” in order to be profitable long term.

That conventional view may not be correct. Certainly, Apple and Google have sought to fight it. Apple tried that transition when it fired Jobs the first time, and found it needed to bring him back and return to being a creative company to be successful. Google hasn’t done that transition yet, and with the cushion of profits it has, may not need to do it for awhile, if ever.

Facebook is a different animal. Zuckerburg is still there, but the company behaves more like IBM than Google — and that may not be a good thing.

Traditional corporations aren’t creative. Instead, they are managed by risk avoiders. That’s why technology changes and market shifts tend to capsize them. They cling to traditional revenue streams and trail the market in innovation.

IBM used to thrive on risk aversion. One of the sales slogans in its golden years was: “Nobody every got fired for recommending IBM.” The products may not have been state-of-the-art and they were often over-priced, but there were safe.

That was the entire issue when Bill Gates issued the fire alarm to Microsoft, calling on all employees to help reinvent the company for the Internet era of technology. He shook the company out of the corporate complacency that would have killed it, as it had killed Compaq, Digital Equipment, Prime and Wang, all market leaders in a prior era of technology.

In the citation with which I opened this piece, Zuckerburg gave a corporate response to the request to accommodate parental needs, not a creative response. If he’s gone corporate, there is no one at Facebook to inspire the creative that Facebook needs to thrive into the future. The inane responses of the company to issues regarding user confidentiality also signifies the dominance of the corporate mind set. The creatives have left the building.

Facebook needs a drastic leadership change. It’s not a stock to own.



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