What Mark Zuckerberg is Teaching us: Fail, Learn, Improve, Repeat


Greg Satell’s recent article in Forbes, Why the Facebook Phone will Fail and Why It Really Doesn’t Matterwas a fascinating look at the difference between the working styles of Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg.  To sum it up, Jobs always presented us with something that was perfect, whereas Zuckerberg is building Facebook the “Hacker Way” (Zuckerberg’s own words) – creating thousands of smaller versions of the Facebook platform and constantly testing and learning from each of them. The Facebook motto: Done is better than perfect.

Perhaps the difference in styles is in part age-related. Jobs was born in 1955 and Zuckerberg in 1984 (the irony of that year is not lost on me given Facebook’s scuffles with its users in the past over privacy). Jobs was working with computers from their early days, whereas Facebook isn’t even ten years old.  And, it is exactly over the past decade or so that there has been an explosion of metrics available to individuals and companies in most, if not every, field. Simply put, Zuckerberg has tons of data at his fingertips that Jobs didn’t have in the earlier days of computing.

Let’s look anecdotally at the changes over the last decade or two in one field, the music business (I am a singer/songwriter).  Fifteen years ago, I would email fans to give them updates and inform them of upcoming shows. I sent out press kits to different venues, magazines and radio stations. I didn’t know who opened those emails and it was hard to keep track of all the marketing materials I was sending out.

Today, I have a metric (often free, usually from Google) for almost anything I want to measure and learn from so I can better understand what I can offer my fans.  It’s rare that I send anything out without being able to access at least basic information about how it’s being received. I can tell how many people are watching my latest video, what countries they are watching them in, when people are visiting my website, and how new fans are finding me. I can see who’s viewed my digital press kit.

All these tools make it easy, cheap and low-risk to try new things out, measure what’s working, and constantly adjust to give my fans a great experience. While sometimes too much information can paralyze us from moving forward at all, used wisely it can be enormously helpful for anyone building a business.

Jobs famously said, “People don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”  His job became delivering perfection to a group that came to expect it every time. Perhaps you’ve created a job for yourself like that and you don’t have much need for feedback. But maybe, like many of us, you find yourself employing the Hacker Way, throwing the figurative spaghetti on the wall, measuring it, seeing which pieces stayed up the longest, understanding what was unique about that batch and that part of the wall, and then tweaking it all and trying again.

Jobs was in love with perfection. I have a feeling Zuckerberg is in love with creation. Luckily, so am I.

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