Facebook as a Model for Business Agility?

The agility at which facebook can make changes is something I can admire. In creating company this big, facebook is not going to please everyone, but led by Mark Zuckerberg who at times is faulted for his naivete because of his young age – he has optimism and energy on his side. As a line in the Social Network movie says “You don’t get to 500 million friends without making a few enemies.” Facebook, in my mind, represents a new breed of consumer-driven organization who must continually adapt at a very high rate of change to satisfy their stakeholders. I realize that arguments have been made that facebook changes are made for the sake of revenue and to maximize advertising, etc and not for the sake of customers. That is most likely true. However, even with that argument, I think that facebook must make changes that will not completely upset its customer base as revenue would then suffer. Consider the following quotes attributed to another brilliant innovator, Steve Jobs:

  • “Sometimes when you innovate, you make mistakes. It is best to admit them quickly, and get on with improving your other innovations.”
  • “You can’t just ask customers what they want and then try to give that to them. By the time you get it built, they’ll want something new.”

Apple and Facebook, led by these two innovators are probably rare companies in that they are able to define their products and services to whatever visions they have set, making mistakes along the way, yet are able to survive and even thrive.

As a facebook user, I sometimes get annoyed with the changes. Specifically with the latest ones released yesterday which makes the site looks very cluttered with all the different functions I can’t even name. It’s beginning to remind me of the cluttered myspace. However, as someone who is in a technology leadership position at a university, I sometimes envy how facebook can seemingly introduce changes overnight without having to go through committee approvals. This is not to say that the need for approval process and committees are all bad given security, policy and legal constraints that must be considered when introducing new technologies like social media. It is those instances when “paralysis by over analysis” cripple a project that bothers me a lot. Finding balance between making sure we are not introducing high risk but at the same time have the room to innovate is a challenge.

One of the guiding principles I have applied in my career is from a mentor I admire so much, the Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs  at UCSB – Dr. Michael Young. He told me way back when I was just starting my career that “I’d rather have you continually moving forward, making mistakes along the way, than stagnate.

One of the challenges I face at work (and life) is determining when to apply the principle of  “it’s easier to ask for forgiveness than permission”.  Looking back at what I have been able to accomplish throughout the years as a developer dating back to 1998 with our university’s campus calendar of events to the numerous applications I’ve built after, I wonder how much of it I would have even built if I had to ask for permission and if I had to prove the value of every single one of them every single time.

Do you agree/disagree with the idea that universities can learn from facebook or are we just different organizational models with different goals, stakeholders and customers?

5 thoughts on “Facebook as a Model for Business Agility?

  1. Anonymous

    This is a great post! I completely agree with your statements. It reminds me of the book titled “Good to Great.” It focuses on how only some companies make the jump from good to great. The book identifies several companies and studied their stocks over a period of several years to identify key factors that create great companies. The companies that made it to great had several similar factors. One of which was the ability of a company to find one thing they were good at and keep working forward with that product or service. So, although they may have made mistakes along the way, they used the slow and steady approach to create innovative and successful products. So keep moving forward!

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  2. Pingback: Steve Jobs – Death of an Innovator | Joe Sabado - Student Affairs Technology Leadership Joe Sabado – Student Affairs Technology Leadership

  3. Ed Cabellon

    In regards to Facebook being a model for a Higher Educational setting, it is rare that we move at the speed businesses do. We can talk all day about “wanting and needing” to innovate, but the reality is that unless you have those forward thinkers in the upper administration, change will happen much slower. I agree that we can learn a lot from companies like Facebook and Google, but the reality is, we are at the mercy of older systems that have been in place for far too long.

    What I focus on is what I have control over, which is my department. If I can make small changes with the people I have contact with, then we are moving forward and can then be an example for when the institution is ready to move forward.

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